Sunday, March 21, 2010

Save Tigers: Admonish Errant Forest Ministers

There is another earnest effort by the Indian government to save our endangered tigers. We have to appreciate Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for taking the initiative to personally talk to concerned ministers in Tiger States (states which have tiger reserves), cajoling them to save our flagship species, which has been under constant threat from poachers and cash-greedy, vote-hungry politicians.

Concerned with the recent death of 15 tigers, the Prime Minister has asked the tiger states to do more to save the tiger population, which is faced with a do-or-die situation in our reserves and protected areas.

If the states fail to respond to the prime minister's call forthwith, the situation could worsen as poachers are on the prowl. Like most of our pea-brained politicians, they wouldn't mind if another 200 tigers are killed for their pelt and 'invigorating' body parts. They are ruthless and know little about the natural prey-predator cycle in habitats and the role of the umbrella species in our eco-system.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has been in place since 2007. the National Board for Wildlife meets frequently to assess the ground situation and briefs the PM. The PM in turn ensures all the requirements, including funds, for protection are met. All is hunky-dory until an advisory is issued to tiger states. As history manifests, nothing really happens thereafter. The advisory files merely cruise to and fro from the forest department to the forest secretary's office. Eventually, the files gather dust.

In Karnataka the situation is going from bad to worse. Though some officers are keen to follow and implement the Centre's orders, they are constrained from executing their tasks. Frequent transfers of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF)and Chief Wildlife Wardens (CWW) reflect the attitude of the Yeddyurrappa government which seems to have its own agenda.

The scenario is such that no officer is willing to question the authority or intentions of the forest minister for fear of being reprimanded with a transfer. The present Director General of Forests (now ensconced in New Delhi), Mr Dileep Kumar was a victim himself, as he dared the forest minister. He was transferred overnight.

Not many senior officers have the conviction to speak their mind. They merely, to some extent reluctantly, sign files that are sent to them from the forest minister's office. A rubber stamp could replace them, isn't it?

You can well imagine what lower-ranked officers would do when their seniors/ mentors themselves buckle under pressure. How we wish another Parameshwarappa is born to tame arrogant ministers and bureaucrats. As PCCF, Mr Parameshwarappa would ask the ministers themselves to sign the files if any favour was sought by the timber and mining lobby. He was tough as nails.

Unfortunately, we don't have officers of such ilk now. Of course, there are a good number of young and dynamic Deputy Conservator of Forests who are genuinely interested in saving our rapidly-decimated forests and wildlife. But they are not allowed to function.

Coming back to the PM's endeavor, Mr Singh would do well to have a central team of Chief Conservator of Forests to man our 38 tiger reserves. They should report to the Member Secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority. They should be empowered to control/ enhance the protection mechanism/ execute guidelines laid down by the NTCA.

It is obviously highly difficult to have such an ideal scenario in a democractic system, where different political parties rule different states. But at least, the PM could get all the chief ministers of the states to agree on this principle in the interest of our dwindling wildlife, more so the future of our own children, grand children, great grand children, great great grand children (if our politicians don't plunder our forest wealth by then).

When the Centre provides funds to tiger states it obviously should have some control over the happenings in the reserves. It should get the errant states (Karnataka for one), to agree to certain conditions, like the appointment of an officer who has served in wildlife parks for the post of Field Director Project Tiger (FDPT) and in posting efficient, credible men as CCFs of DCFs in Tiger reserves. The sooner this is done, the better.

If any forest minister or bureaucrat infringes the Wildlife Protection Act (1972), Forest Act, undermines the guidelines of the NTCA and disrespects the CEC, he should hauled up in court and publicly questioned and admonished on all the national television networks. Else, it will be darn difficult to tame them.

Hopefully, our forest ministers accede to our prime minister's latest clarion call to save our endangered tigers.

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