Published: Saturday 30 April 2005

Rigging tigers way back

Tigers do not vanish into thin air just like that('Time to tell the truth, again', Down To Earth, March 15, 2005). In fact, the charade has been going on for well over 30 years.

In the May 1979 issue of the now-defunct Surya India magazine (edited by Maneka Gandhi), is a special report on the tiger hoax, titled "Dubious Achievement: the Tiger Reserves". I quote, "Project Tiger was launched on 1st April 1973, with nine tiger reserves: Manas, Palamu, Simliphal, Corbett, Ranthambore, Kanha, Melghat, Bandipur and Sundarbans. There were 258 tigers in these nine reserves. In 1976, the figure went up to 470 and then in 1977 to 612. It is stated that 16 per cent of India's tigers were in the reserves and 84 per cent outside. Grave suspicions have arisen about the efficacy of Project Tiger, and accusations of undue intrusion of politics, extravagance, and distortion of statistics have been hurled at the project authorities after the publication of the Leyhausen Report by a three-member team, consisting of Paul Leyhausen, director of Max Planck Institute for Animal Behaviour, Colin Holloway, ecologist from International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and M K Ranjit Singh, Regional Advisor, United Nations Environment Program. The team reports that the tiger population figures were faked. It dubbed the figures, of 82 per cent increase in three years, as 'being completely unbelievable'. It further mentions that the initial figures from Corbett, Simliphal and Sundarban were not based on any surveys in the field. The project has become such a status symbol that each project director tries to outdo the other, on paper at least. And the fictitious figures finally became so unbelievable that they attracted worldwide attention." The article also says, "Mr Koppikar, secretary general, forestry (later director, Project Tiger) has admitted that the estimate of the tiger population in India has always been something of a guess".

Also, protecting our forests will demand management of competing, but equally vital, needs of human livelihood and environmental security ('2005: after non-governance', Down To Earth, January 15, 2005) as we do not have the option to choose one over the other. That's the difference between the situation in India and developed countries.

A R Maslekar
Khadki, Pune...

Others adulterate, we pay

I have a Bajaj Wind two-wheeler, purchased last year on 21st March. Recently, when I gave it for free servicing at the local service station, I was told that the engine was completely damaged due to adulterated petrol. Moreover, the bearings, camshaft, bore and piston were also corroded. The cost for part replacement is Rs 8,500.

Although I am not responsible for adulterated petrol, I end up paying a hefty amount for repairs I have not caused. The Bajaj company does not take responsibility, though my bike is in the warranty period. They say that they are not responsible for petrol related damages. The insurance company says that only accident is covered. The petrol pump owners have always claimed that their petrol quality is good, even though private petrol tests have been negative. The petrol purchase receipts do not have the purchaser's name and vehicle number, making it difficult to prove petrol purchase.

As no one in the chain of petrol consumption can be held responsible, this perfectly designed petrol racket continues. It is only us vehicle owners who keep paying the price of adulteration.

Hemant Thite
Calorees Energy & Power Systems

Neighbour's pride

A recent experience has given us a new perspective on volunteers and rural communities. On the way back from a birding trip near Bhubaneswar, we came across a forest on fire, which we tried frantically to douse. But the local villagers just stood by and watched. Our efforts were futile, but had this group participated, we all could have prevented the fire from destroying a two-kilometre stretch of forest land and the many creatures that lived in it. One cannot excuse the people for not trying.

The village close to the forest had large signboards of ngo s who work on livelihood issues. I want to convey to all ngo s who work in rural areas that they need to proactively preach protection of environment and ecology. Some do claim to be teaching this, but for most, it seems to be too insignificant a subject. They could raise awareness about why one should not smoke in the forest, why bamboo shoots shouldn't be cut or why young trees should not be axed.

Yes, the rich exploit the environment more than the poor villagers; the government also destroys more forests than it creates. But one cannot ignore the fact that villagers close to the forest also participate in destroying the forest.

Ranjit K Patnaik

Don't dump the problem

The report on garbage dumping at Agartala town ('What a dump', Down To Earth, February 28, 2005) only highlights the futility of preparing expensive documents on the management of solid waste (sw) by consultants, as was done for the same town in 1986. The methodology and associated problems are not very different elsewhere in the northeast, including in Guwahati. In fact, scientists and technologists in public health engineering have not been able to suggest a proven model to tackle this issue. Endless workshops and seminars don't help. No wonder environmentalists and ngos feel disturbed.

The root cause is to isolate the garbage at source into bio-degradable and non-degradable, with further subdivisions into plastics, metals and others like cloth and paper. Disposability of non-degradable waste will reduce total sw by 25-30 per cent and create usable waste. At Agartala or in similar towns, animal wastes can be converted, subject to a proper system of collection, to gas and fertiliser in biogas plants. It's only through segregation and biogas plants that the problem of sw can be overcome.

The government should get serious about facing health hazards that come with indiscriminate garbage dumping.

C R Bhattacharjee
Lake Gardens, Kolkata...

Tourism to save tigers

The tiger situation ('Maneaten', Down To Earth, March 15, 2005) can be turned around, if only the local population were to see the opportunities in tigers.

For instance, in North Devon , uk, we have a tourist regime based on "Tarka, the Otter Country". The aim of this project was to explore tourism as a means of economic regeneration, by getting the local population involved in a scheme they could own and so support. Once the community gets involved, it comes to feel it has a stake in the project. Employment is generated, while the training can be of use to the community.

In this way, wildlife tourism could support the rural economy. Tourists need food, transport and hotels. This needs tourism development and communication. The local population can act as guides to their area and way of life. They need to develop a passion for their habitat, which they could pass on to the tourists. In addition, it requires an ability on the part of the local people to understand the local ecosystem, including the place of humans in it.

reginald cane
North Devon, uk ...

A case for jatropha

Some issues have been raised about jatropha plantation by the Chhattisgarh government ('Jatropha fever', Down To Earth, November 30, 2004). As the worldwide promoters of jatropha, we have strong reservations on some ideas expressed in the article.

For instance, jatropha is a poisonous plant, but so what? Many plants are not fit for human consumption, but essential for humankind. Secondly, we are yet to hear of any developing country that has spent money on eliminating jatropha. Nor has any scientist or ecologist noticed so far that it outcompetes other plants. In the southern part of Rajasthan, it is naturally available for centuries, but has not spread to nearby districts. Nor is biodiversity under threat; jatropha blooms along with other fruits and wood trees in the forest.

I also don't agree that there is no market for jatropha. In Rajasthan, it has been used for oil-making over the last twenty years. Of course, biodiesel as a concept has emerged only now, but there are several other usages that make it quite a profitable plant. It's true that the biodiesel prices are not much cheaper than fossil fuel, but if we count other benefits, it's a better option.

Many other aspects pointed out by the article, like the failure of the African jatropha project, lack of sustainability or children dying, are not known to us.

Jatropha has enough credentials to qualify among the various trees suitable for bio-diesel production. It must be definitely included for its special qualities such as its pure hardiness and stress handling ability.

Abhishek Maharshi
Chief Executive Officer
Centre for Jatropha Promotion

Truth vaccine?

Several small groups around the country speak and work against polio vaccination. The media has also reported on children dying after pulse polio vaccination in Delhi. Some doctors are reluctant to give this drop vaccine to children, although they insist the rest of the community should have it. All this raises doubts about the polio vaccine.

A recent face-off, between a non-governmental organisation (ngo) that opposed these vaccines and the super speciality hospitals around that area who tried to throw the ngo out of the place, is a case in point. Being more powerful, they managed to do so within two hours. Perhaps the whole business of pulse polio needs to be investigated.

veena m
Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala...

Pick of the postbag

Where displacement is a habit
Regarding the Tarapur Atomic Power Plant Unit-4 ('Critical Problem', Down To Earth , March 31, 2005), one would think that people who are able to construct nuclear power plants would be able to accurately count and relocate project affected families (pafs) from just two villages in 10 or 15 years!

Power generation in India has displaced over 50 million people, of which 20 million were tribal. Whether the displacement is caused by large dams like Sardar Sarovar (ssp) and Tehri, or by coal mining for thermal power in Singrauli (Madhya Pradesh) and the North Karanpura valley (Jharkhand), the picture of Resettlement and Rehabilitation (r&r) seems painfully similar. ssp is an unmitigated disaster with 500,000 Project Affected Persons still unsettled. And things are only going to get worse, with the Indian government planning 23 new dams on the Brahmaputra in Arunachal and two more in Uttaranchal.

The situation calls for a planned solution. Instead of the concerned department(s), as soon as the decision to construct a power plant is taken, a capable civil society or non-governmental organisation (cso or ngo) in the state/district should be asked to prepare a viable Resettlement Action Plan (rap) for all families in each village in accordance with the National Policy for Resettlement and Rehabilitation (nprr -2004). The cso/ngo should continue to be in the picture until all the families have been resettled properly. The power generation organisation should then have an independent institution evaluate 'satisfaction' with the resettlement process.

Establishing power plants is not only about celebrating technological achievements, but also about resettling tribal people and demonstrating that the benefits flow to them as well.

Prodipto Roy
Lodi Estate, New Delhi...

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