Published: Tuesday 30 September 1997


Your Leader 'Khaki stripes' ( Down To Earth, Vol 6, No 6; August 15, 1997) is totally inaccurate in terms of quoting me. I have never suggested that a p rotected Area Authority of India be formed under a few "Superintendents of Police".

Please ask the person who wrote the article to check the facts and have the ability to telephone those they quote....

Valmik Thapar replies

I have never given such a quote to the Indian Express and I have ages ago corrected them on it. It is indeed shocking that your journalist relies on secondary information from another newspaper without verifying the facts.

You must publish an apology....

Getting strident

Apropos the article 'Khaki stripes' ( Down To Earth, Vol 6, No 6; August 15, 1997), it is time that the Centre for science and Environment ( cse) stopped playing into the hands of hardcore commercial interests who relish the idea of setting defender against defender, while they plunder our forest wealth.

I know Valmik Thapar fairly well and have never heard him express the view that a special police force should take over all sanctuaries! And how did cse hit on the absurd notion that anti-poaching squads would be used to force villagers to move out of forests? The truth is that ak -47 wielding terrorists are killing one tiger and one elephant every day. More than 200 forest personnel have lost their lives to poachers and the timber mafia. How should they be fought? By hitting them over the head with copies of Down To Earth editorials?

Can cse point out any forest -- outside the Northeast and the Andamans -- larger than 500 sq. km, that social activists have been able to save in its "natural" condition?

Without the Wildlife Protection Act, the last few adivasis who still retain their forest culture would need to queue up outside cse for handouts. Till cse is able to demonstrate that it is actually possible to keep commercial plunderers out of natural forests without the use of the Wildlife Protection Act, it might like to consider tempering its tone to prompt dialogue rather than the infantile heckling it habitually indulges in when commenting on wildlife issues....

Neena Singh, CSE campaigner on community wildlife management replies

It seems that Bittu Sahgal makes no attempt to understand another point of view. Do you honestly think that India can improve forest protection by arming the wildlife wing further, giving them paramilitary status (as suggested in a report to the Delhi High Court), or by giving them money, mostly obtained from begging from the World Bank or Western conservationists who are dying to thrust their value systems on us? Do you believe that the nexus between the forest bureaucracy and commercial interests, and the lack of efficiency and unaccountability of the bureaucracy will be solved by this approach?

We hope you have some idea of the ground realities. Anti-poaching squads will probably result in more harassment of the local villagers. Will these squads be accountable in any way to the civil society and to the poor villagers? Arming the forest department without creating transparent and effective systems of checks and controls will only lead to greater infringement of human rights. And it will only worsen park-people conflicts and the problem of poaching.

People like you should be more responsible when you talk about people. India's wildlife policies have taken away the resource base of poor people who are totally dependent on it for their livelihood; thrown people out of the forest; disempowered them; and made them, by force, dependent on outside industrial and commercial forces. How can you then judge these people to be incapable of saving the forests? The Centre for Science and Environment would like to ask if the forest department, with all its training and equipment, and wildlife laws that give it virtual ownership of forests, has been able to save forests.

If there is a genuine consensus about the fundamental need to involve local people in wildlife management (which you keep expressing your commitment to), then it should get reflected in our wildlife policies, and the Wildlife Act. Why does it continue to talk about keeping people out? By asking for a change in the policies that create a stake for people in management of protected areas, we are demanding the effective strengthening of protection of India's forests. But this strengthening would of course mean a dilution of the powers of a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy.

We believe strongly that commercial interests and poachers cannot be fought by anti-people laws and a corrupt bureaucracy. The local people will have to play the biggest role in protecting their forests and wildlife resources from all such forces that are making them more marginalised and poor. And for this commitment you have to create a stake for them in management and protection. Commitment to people has to go beyond handing them platitudes, and actually express a genuine acknowledgment of their role in protection....

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