Wildlife & Biodiversity

Pregnant elephant’s death in Kerala shows institutional indifference to wild animals

It is not tough to see how serious the Union and state governments of the country are about wild animals

By Satyam Shrivastava
Published: Tuesday 09 June 2020

We should be thankful to former Union minister and current Member of Parliament Maneka Gandhi for raising the issue of the death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala reported on June 3, 2020, days before World Environment Day.

The incident has serious implications for environment and wildlife. An attempt was made, nonetheless, to give this issue a communal colour.

Gandhi has consistently fought for the welfare of animals. There is little doubt that raising the killing of pregnant elephant is inspired by her motive to attract the country’s attention. Her efforts may be politically motivated, but that too does not snatch away the significance of raising the issue.

She knows that with an increase in awareness across the country about wild animals, the problems themselves are amplified as well.

She is also well-versed with the fact that developmental projects have the most pernicious effect over wildlife. As a parliamentarian and animal lover, she must have visited mining projects, where mining is carried out through dynamite explosions. In this process, huge rocks are broken and animal life is disturbed.

These activities also end century-old paths of forest animals: Elephants forget their pathways and find themselves stranded in villages. They lose their choice of trees and areas to rest. When they feel hunger, they are forced to move towards human habitats, including villages.

Elephants, thus, sometimes cause physical harm to humans. In Chhattisgarh’s Surguja district, 50 people died from elephant attacks in a year. That this is not the fault of the elephants, is known by not just the tribal community, but also by those who love the environment as well.

Elephants don’t kill humans willingly: The relationship between humans and wild animals is not a commercial contract, involving profit and loss.

It is not tough to judge how serious the Union and state governments of the country are about wild animals. They are also likely aware of the steps taken by the forest department for the safety of wild animals.

There are a few facts that must be kept in mind when government officials raise such issues in the future.

The forest department earlier invited tenders to hunt forest animals and give licenses to hunters, according to advocate Anil Garg (It is important to make Gandhi and her celebrity supporters aware of this fact).

We can understand this better from the example of Madhya Pradesh, where — according to the MP Hunting Act, 1935 — arms licenses were distributed to hunt lions, panthers, tigers, deer, cheetal, forest pigs, sambar and other wild animals. There are several examples of such notifications being issued till 1972.

Misinformation over the disappearance of wild animals led to the formation of the Kanha Tiger Reserve in Bandhavgarh under the Madhya Pradesh National Park Act 1955. The conservation of wild animals was propagated through such parks.

The working plan prepared by the forest departments of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh explained different reasons of causing harm to forests. Plans for the conservation of forests were prepared on the basis of these estimations.

When the entire world was convinced of the importance of biodiversity, these two states considered their rich forests dispensible and kept commercial interests in consideration. Only monoculture-based trees like sagwan, saj and bamboo were promoted.

An interesting fact is that those forest departments which issued licenses to hunt wild animals were made their sole protectors and conservators under the Wild Animal Conservation Act, 1972.

In the gazette of Madhya Pradesh, on January 11, 1971, a notification to ban the hunting of wild animals was published.

Non-profit Greenpeace published Elephant in the room, a 2014 report on the fight between elephants and humans in Chhattisgarh. This report talked about the condition of elephants in detail. It also quoted a letter by the office of the Korba forest department to kill a male elephant.

This letter said the male elephant killed nine people in a few days, making it necessary to kill him. The second interesting fact comes from Chhattisgarh, something that reveals the apathy of the country’s institutions towards wild animals.

It discloses how the right to determine the fate of wild animals went into the hands of corporates. This single fact reveals how the legislative assembly of a state and a big ministry of the Union government are dwarfed before industrialists.

In February-March 2005, the Chhattisgarh assembly proposed to create an elephant sanctuary, something that was approved of in the assembly session.

In 2007, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) gave its approval to the proposal.

In 2008, the Confederation of the Indian Industry (CII) wrote to Chhattisgarh’s forest department, advising it to cancel the Lamru elephant sanctuary.

In the case of this sanctuary coming into being, seven coal blocks would have directly been affected: This meant no coal mining would have been possible.

The then Chhattisgarh government decided to cancel the Lamru elephant sanctuary after this letter, giving precedence to CII over the unanimous decision of the state assembly and the MoEF&CC.

It is a relief that this project has taken off once again. The coal blocks, however, have been kept out of the sanctuary, giving enough of a hint that this step will not bring the same benefits earlier thought of, for the conservation of elephants.

Prakash Javadekar, the current environment minister, should stop efforts that harm the environment. Forests should be left to local communities as well: The Forest Rights Act, 2006 is there for this move.

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