Published: Friday 30 April 2010

The great telecom hoax

I can’t understand why the telecom company, Aircel, has ventured into such a campaign and what it aims to achieve from this (‘1,411 tigers, and unanswered questions’, March 16-31, 2010). Initially, I had thought that the company is trying to lure customers by introducing schemes such as diverting part of the revenue earned from Aircel calls into saving tigers.

But when I visited their website, http://saveourtigers. com, I realized the company is not promoting its business through the campaign, at least not the way I had thought. I made a fool of myself when I clicked on a link ‘Join the roar’. All one can do there is fill up the blocks to create a tiger image, like picture puzzles, by adding name and email address. There is another link that says ‘What can I do?’.

But it does not educate one how to save the tigers. It just leads to other social networking sites. A link under the name, Tiger Reserves, reads: “Being a responsible visitor to tiger reserves can help save our tigers.” This left me wondering how a responsible visitor can save the tigers. This section was linked to WWF and Project Tiger, and had maps of tiger reserves across India. The television advertisement is also vague about the campaign’s efforts to save tigers.

What is the use of talking, messaging, blogging and posting comments on Facebook or Twitter about saving tigers? Will the message reach poachers or others who are responsible for the falling number of tigers in India?


image I think corporates are using tigers for entertainment and business. It’s time to wake up.


image The Save Our Tigers campaign by Aircel has been a great tool to garner publicity for the moderately successful telecom company.

The campaign says: “Just 1,411 (tigers) left.” The assertion of the figure is strange, because no one is sure how many wild tigers remain in India. The campaign has, of course, created some awareness about tigers, but the company has its ulterior motive. Aircel could have chosen any other endangered animal if it were serious about conservation. But it was fully aware that no other animal is associated with the nation’s pride as much as the tiger and that a company woven around it would touch the emotional chord of people.

After a little research, I learnt that there were about 10,000 tigers in India in 1952. Their number has dropped over time because of rampant poaching and habitat loss. Several poor people get involved in poaching because it is a source of earning for them. Tiger habitats are arbitrarily encroached to make way for farmlands and industries. Only the government can check this by spreading awareness among poachers and enforcing laws to prevent encroachment.

How can the urban people of India help alleviate the crisis by blogging and tweeting? They can’t do much, actually. Aircel’s website urges to speak up, share and campaign. Perhaps it is not aware that a moderately successful campaign was launched in the mid-2000s by several non-profits.

The government’s own wildlife conservation movement, Project Tiger, has been working towards conservation of the species. Of course, Project Tiger needs to be meticulously planned and implemented in a professional manner, with full-time employees. But an ordinary Indian can do nothing to save tigers except play into the hands of one more multinational company’s next big marketing gimmick.


imageTigers survive in an extremely vulnerable environment. Poachers are not the only threat to them. Farmers often kill tigers to save their cattle. The animal is increasingly under threat due to rise in demand for its body parts in the international market.

Earlier, only tiger skin was considered valuable. Several measures, including intensive monitoring and a faster and reasonable compensation to people affected by tigers, are necessary for protecting the national animal. Shifting tigers from one reserve to another is not the solution.


image Poachers should get capital punishment under the Indian Penal Code. This would deter them from killing the national animal. The reserve forests, including migration corridors, should be fenced so that people living in the periphery feel safe.


imageA strategy needs to be evolved to ensure that tigers and the people living near their habitat co-exist. Survival of tigers is important to promote wildlife tourism, which earns valuable foreign exchange. Tourism can also be planned to generate employment for people living around national parks and sanctuaries. Once they understand the importance of tigers, they would take parts in efforts to save the animal from poisoning and poaching.

Former I G Forest and Special Secretary to Ministry of Environment and Forests

Time for global syllabus

A common syllabus for mathematics and science is welcome (‘One country, one science syllabus’, March 1-15, 2010). This will help students in competitive exams and join any university in India. But for how long? The disparity in syllabus would again crop up with foreign universities coming to India. In several countries, the governments are adopting international standards from primary to higher classes. Why do we not think of it?


How real is the innovation?

The innovation of waterless, stink-free urinals seems great, but only if it proves a success after protracted use (‘Break the odour’, March 16-31, 2010). As an engineer, I feel problems are bound to surface after some time and the urinals would need water servicing and flushing. A trap or some chemicals may not work perpetually. It seems more of a marketing trap of a multinational rather than a real innovation.


Blindly trusting USA

This is with reference to reports that India may agree to the conditions put forth by the US for immunizing nuclear reactor installations from lawsuits and settling a limited liability in the event of a mishap in the proposed plants.

The figure the Department of Atomic Energy is reported to have suggested is US $100 million. The amount is one-tenth of what USA spent on cleanup operations after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania in 1979. The inflation since would further reduce the fraction. This means the amount the US companies (suppliers of nuclear technology) would be liable to pay in the event of a mishap in India would be far less than their profit.

This is absurd because limiting the stake to less than the suppliers’ profit would tempt companies to cut corners on safety measures. And, Indian tax payer would have to pay for the suppliers’ questionable competence. Moreover, how can we trust the companies that were never trusted in their own country for over 30 years. The Three Mile Island was thinly populated and so the mishap didn’t result in any death and the government had to compensate only for injury suffered by people in the vicinity.

Any such mishap in India would have a far greater impact given the country’s population density. I doubt if nuclear power is so vital that we yield to the pressure of the US.


Mumbai skidding off the BRT

Your observations on the Ahmedabad and Delhi bus rapid transit (BRT) systems are relevant not only to the two cities but for the entire urban India (‘Before cars take over’, March 1-15, 2010). I find it particularly relevant to Mumbai which is spending thousands of crores of rupees to further pollute its environment and increase congestion.

The city authorities are sidetracking the BRT projects and extending the sea link and building tunnels to take more car traffic to south Mumbai. Later, they would build underground parking lots, at Rs 30 lakh each. This would be subsidized by the corporation or the state government, so that the city can emit more and become more congested.


image I have a small complaint. Your editorial doesn’t talk about Kolkata. Though it has rightly brought out the subject important to all cities: whether the future transport system should be built around buses plying in demarcated corridors or jostling cars adding to the bumper-to-bumper traffic.

To curb the auto boom in Delhi, the government should impose traffic congestion price or increase the number of roads and buses to ferry more commuters. It would be difficult to implement such a scheme in Kolkata, though. The city has a callous political culture. Here we prefer to burn down buses during bandhs rather than use them for commuting.



Livestock threaten tigers

There has been an alarming growth of goat population in the villages surrounding sanctuaries and reserve forests in Rajasthan in the past few years. This is mostly due to an everrising demand for meat in nearby cities. Goat-rearing is extensive in and around Sariska tiger reserve, from where truckloads of the livestock are sent to Delhi.

For those involved in the business, rearing costs are minimal as the animals graze either on the commons land or, clandestinely, inside the reserve. A scientific study needs to be carried out to assess the future limits of this trade in relation to the carrying capacity of the forests. We can then think of solutions.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden,

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