Published: Wednesday 30 September 2009

Of fake pugmarks and drunk officials

I am dismayed at the level to which P K Sen has stooped in the interview 'Forest officials kept eyes tightly shut' (August 1-15, 2009). He makes two ain points: one, the field staff at Panna faked tiger signs to deceive the inspectors from Delhi in January 2008, and two, the chief wildlife warden and other senior officers were a bunch of drunkards.

The insinuation that the tiger pugmarks were faked is far-fetched. It is possible to fake a single pugmark, but nearly impossible to create fake tiger trails at several places. Sen's report says all single pug marks were ignored and the investigation team relied on trails of pugmarks to draw its conclusions.

It will take four carefully selected plaster casts, one for each pug, to create a tiger trail. The casts themselves will have to be reversed to create a pugmark. In a normal plaster cast the digits and pads are sunken and would not make an impression on the ground. To fake impeccablly, the faker himself will have to make an elaborate effort, perhaps by hanging from the air, to avoid leaving his own footprints along with each pugmark.

I would like Sen to try it himself. From time to time, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Sen, deputed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), produced feelgood reports. In 2005, WII confirmed the "healthy" presence of 8-15 tigers in the reserve. Then comes Sen in January 2008 and announces he saw signs of seven adults and two sub-adults.As far as the credibility of the special investigation team is concerned, at least two members of the team had never seen a tiger or a tiger reserve. A WII representative in the team said over the phone that he had not seen the final draft of the report submitted to the NTCA (I am sure he will deny it now). Therefore, it is virtually Sen's report.

When Sen could not find anything wrong on the ground, he produced dubious poaching data, from irrelevant periods 15 years ago, to prove his point. The team chose to condemn the senior management of the department for reasons known only to Sen, despite finding comprehensive antipoaching operations on the ground.

Sen's irrationality is reflected in his personal charges of drinking against the chief wildlife warden and other senior officers. While Sen's weakness for alcohol is well known, yours truly and his predecessor have never touched whiskey in their lives....

Water for life

Water is a life-sustaining element and no budget or money allocation can substitu10:40 AM 16/09/200910:40 AM 16/09/200910:40 AM 16/09/2009te for it if monsoon fails ('It's raining GDP', July 16-31, 2009). It is the duty of the government to ensure water availability in cities and villages....

As long as the rich are happy

There have been suggestions to tax private cars and waive duties on buses. But the government will ignore this because it wants to appease the vocal car-owning community; the majority of people in the country, who do not own cars nor write columns or talk on television, will anyway remain silent. For instance, the road transport office in Maharashtra does not even know how much tax buses pay. The department still lives in the pre-computer era. They don't even use the excel program to total the taxes paid by various offices.

ASHOK R DATAR Mumbai Environmental Social Network datar....

K Sen responds

Pabla claims my report is without the endorsement of other members of the committee. But the fact is the report submitted to government of India on June 22, 2009, was signed by all four members with the date.

He has also cast aspersions on the team members. The person from WII was responsible for all-India estimation of tigers. The other member is joint director of NTCA. The fourth member, C Behera, is the regional deputy director of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau. This was a prestigious team capable of undertaking investigation and any aspersion on them is unbecoming.

The report of January 2008 also recorded observations and recommendations. Forget about the warnings and cautions of previous eight years, had Pabla acted upon the recommendations of 2008 reports, perhaps the surviving tigers would not have perished.

The fact is Panna has no tigers. abla ignored all warnings and continued to deny tiger disappearance till March 2009. The responsibility of managing a tiger reserve lies with the state government; shifting the responsibility and the blame to the central government or WII is not tenable.

Regarding the attack on me personally, I do not need a certificate from Pabla for integrity and competence. Like Pabla I too was chief wildlife warden of Bihar at one time. Our job does not allow making money from the tiger crisis. We are constitutionally responsible to save tigers.

As for alcohol, my love or hate for liquor ended 17 years ago when I became an insulin-dependent diabetic....

Sweet sorghum is Indian

Apropos the article, 'Nature cure from India' (July 16-31, 2009), sweet sorghum was introduced in India by Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in the early 1970s. Since then we have produced many hybrids which have been exported to more than a dozen countries. I hope the writer updates her database on sweet sorghum....

Non-performance award

The editorial 'Time to be different' (June 1-15, 2009) points out the Congress returned to power because of the poor. You credit the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) and waiving of farmers' loans for the party's victory and touch on Keynesian public investment driven recovery programmes.

Waiving agricultural loan to thetune of Rs 71,000 crore--increased from Rs 61,000 crore--was a measure to get the vote bank and not governed by any economic reasoning. The haphazard developmental work promoted by NREGS in villages is not a Keynesian prescription. Keynes was concerned about industrial stagnation and the gross domestic product.

This government has returned on non-performance....

Useful but expensive

Music therapy may be useful, but it seems few can afford it. ('The how, why of music therapy', August 1-15, 2009.) The article on green dosa, published in the same issue, is helpful for those suffering body aches ('Body ache? Try green dosa'). The practice is still followed in southern India....

Cardinal sin

Governments of rich countries that dump their technologies on the developing world must realize flouting environment norms is a sin against nature and the future generation....

Thorium on Kerala's coast

'Uranium traces in Punjab children' (April 16-30, 2009) is baffling as there are no uranium mines in Punjab. Groundwater pollution is a problem in Punjab and many other parts of the country. There should be strict rules against excessive use of groundwater. Thorium is another radioactive mineral. It is found naturally and in abundance on Kerala's coasts. Preventive measures need to be taken to save the people living close to the sea....

Crop failure causes deaths

Farmers in Sringeri and Kappa taluks of Karnataka's Chikmagalur district are suffering due to ecological hazards and political apathy. The yellow-leaf disease has come as a blow to farmers growing areca nut, a major cash crop. The government and the scientists are yet to develop a cure for the disease. Several farmers in the region have committed suicide. The Centre recently announced a rehabilitation package, but it is useless. Excessive rainfall and failure of alternative crops like vanilla has caused further anxiety among these farmers The ongoing conflict between the tribals and the state government over the Kudremukh national park is also giving the farmers sleepless nights....

Scientific cell disposal

With proliferation of electronic gadgets in India we have a long-term problem at hand. Old batteries are often dumped along with other garbage. These dry cells contain mercury and other poisonous substances and can cause permanent damage to our topsoil.

In Sweden people deposit old batteries in specially-designated collection centres. It is high time that we had a policy on disposal of used batteries. A possible solution is to charge a 10 per cent fee on sale of batteries.

The fee should be waived if the buyer deposits used batteries at the shop while purchasing new ones. If old batteries are not returned, the fee should be used to segregate used batteries from garbage and dispose them scientifically....

Only a few pay tax

Financial management in India has gone for a toss. There is a wide gap between the number of people paying taxes and the number of people who should be paying taxes. If you go through the reports of the last 30 years of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, you would not believe your eyes. Even after allowing for a wide margin of error--about 20 per cent--crores have gone missing. This money was meant for public works such as schools, hospitals and roads.

Of course, the rich have to pay more tax. But do they pay at all?...

Down To Earth welcomes letters, responses and other contributions from readers. Send to Sunita Narain, Editor, Down To Earth, 41, Tughlakabad Institutional Area, New Delhi - 110 062....

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