Press on Environment and Wildlife
The last of Kashmir’s royal stags (May Week #2 (2013))
On 16 March, Wildlife Institute of India scientist Parag Nigam tranquilized and radio-collared a hangul in the Dachigam National Park on the outskirts of Srinagar.

The enigmatic Kashmir stag has never been radio-collared before, and its nervous disposition doesn’t make it the ideal subject for tranquilization. Indeed, a plan to collar three more stags has been deferred to November, with the animals moving to the
upper reaches of the park with the onset of summer. The Hindu reported on 14 April on the radio collaring of the hangul and how it was achieved.

In early March, this writer was in Dachigam to try and catch a glimpse of the last remaining hangul, the state animal of Jammu and Kashmir. The government claims there are 218 of them, but the number has hovered in the 200s since 2004 and wildlife experts
insist the real number is likely to be in the double digits.

In order to monitor the hangul population, a collaborative project called, “Long term conservation of Hangul: Studying Movement Patterns of Hangul using Satellite Telemetry in Dachigam National Park,” was started in March 2012 by the Sher-e-Kashmir University
of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST), the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the wildlife department of the Jammu and Kashmir government.

The conservationists say grazing is responsible for the declining number of stags.

On that early March day, Malik makes a sudden move and pushes this writer down. He points through the trees. Just about 50m up the trail are four magnificent hangul. The stag closest to us is a fine specimen, with a 13-point antler and a rich chocolate

“Hangul comes from the word hang, a local name for a species of chestnut found in this forest, which the deer is fond of and which gives the deer its dark brown coat,” he says. We see five more stags as we traverse the valley.

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Man who achieved his wildest dream (May Week #2 (2013))
As a little boy, P. Abdul Kareem used to frequent a sacred grove near his school in Neeleshwaram. There, surrounded by green trees and serenaded by crickets, he used to feel something more exalted than peace.

It was this feeling that he desperately sought as an adult. The man-made gardens he saw in the Gulf, where he was running a travel agency, offered him a solution. In 1977, he purchased five acres of wasteland for ` 3750 in Parappa, a godforsaken village
between Kasargod and Payyannur.

After the initial three-year back-breaking labour, during which Kareem planted saplings and ferried large cans of water on a motorbike, the forest grew by itself.The vast floor of decomposed leaves disintegrated the laterite rocks over a period of time
into gravel and further into fine soil. And on this newly fertile soil, birds dropped seeds.

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Gujjars displaced by Sonanadi sanctuary to be rehabilitated (May Week #2 (2013))
The forest dwelling Van Gujjar community displaced by Sonanadi sanctuary in Uttarakhand will be rehabilitated at Sabalgarh in Chidiyapur Range of Haridwar Forest Division by June this year.

All the formalities in this regard will be completed well in advance and 259 Van Gujjar families will be rehabilitated on 160 hectares of land identified at Sabalgarh before June end, Chief Secretary Alok Kumar Jain said today.

Biometric identity cards will also be issued by the forest department to the Van Gujjar families to be rehabilitated in the area under the supervision of forest department officials, he said.

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Jharkhand in deep water as crisis worsens in summer (May Week #2 (2013))
Jogeshwar Mahato Rangeela of Siyar village said around two years ago the forest department sanctioned Rs 1.62 lakh under special case category for construction of well. "Due to sudden rain, the half-constructed well collapsed and now the project is incomplete.
The department has winded up the project and now we are dependent on wells in neighbouring villages," said Rangeela.

Even after repeated requests to review the project, forest department officials did not act and said since the financial year had ended, and fund had been returned. The situation in the 100 villages in Sahebgunj is no better and residents have to depend
on neighbouring villages for drinking water. Most of the hand pumps are defunct for months.

A large number of people do not have access to safe drinking water as source contains fluoride, arsenic and iron. To address the problem the department has started Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme. "We have installed attachments with hand pumps
which remove fluoride and arsenic," said Sardhendu Narayan, engineer-in-chief at the department.

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Young biologist wins Green Oscar for saving Arunachal hornbills (May Week #2 (2013))
A young wildlife biologist who converted bird hunters into their saviours in remote forests of Arunachal Pradesh was awarded the 2013 Whitley Award, also known as Green Oscar, in London on Thursday. 

“Datta leads a programme to conserve hornbills in the Indian Eastern Himalaya at the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), an NGO established in 1996 to promote science-based wildlife conservation in India,” said a statement by the Whitley Fund for Nature.

Hornbills are prominent birds of Asian tropical forests and Arunachal is home to five hornbill species. But their killing by locals for meat and habitat loss because of shifting cultivation had threatened their existence deep inside forests.

Many tribals were not aware that Due to their predominantly frugivorous diet, the brightly coloured birds with loud calls have always been considered important agents of seed dispersal in the tropical forest. A small and poor tribal group in Namdapha National
Park, called Lisu, were hunting the birds and logging for their fuel needs.

Datta established a community-based conservation program with them to reduce hunting and save wildlife by first improving the quality their lives. “We started schools; built river embankments to stop erosion and protect agricultural land; and supplied
solar panel lamps that power homes and save the enormous expense of kerosene and batteries,” she said.

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Passing on the green baton (Issue of the week, April Week #3 (2013))
An important chapter in environmental jurisprudence came to an end last week when the Supreme Court delivered three judgments that touched upon mega industries, hilltop deities and even lowly animals (as named in one of the judgments) - wild pigs, peafowl,
dugong and wild buffalo. Hereafter, the National Green Tribunal, which was set up recently, will take up such issues. The Court has 66,000 cases on its files, including 750 constitution bench matters.

The statutory bodies under the air and water laws were not set up, and there was no sense of urgency over the deteriorating environment. However, the M C Mehta cases - some 50 of them - emphasised the right to life aspect under the Constitution. Since
the right had been expanded in several judgments earlier to include dignified life and clean environment, not "mere animal existence", courts had no choice but to hear those cases.

For instance, in one of those cases, the Delhi public transport was compelled to use a comparatively clean fuel - compressed natural gas or CNG. It involved a struggle against the lobbies of traditional fuels but, ultimately, the capital's air became cleaner.
Unfortunately, the rest of the high courts have not taken the cue.

Prawn farms with huge foreign investment threatened to play havoc in the coastal region in the east, but the Court applied the "precautionary" principle, following which the project was abandoned. Coastal zone regulations were brought in and the Court
insisted on implementing them. 

Other areas where the Court's long arms reached are: solid waste management in cities, protecting Taj Mahal from air pollution (units emitting chemical fumes were relocated to distant places) and privacy of indigenous tribes in the Andamans.

Since the Supreme Court has enormous constitutional powers, it could enforce its orders in the face of executive resistance. However, the new tribunal is a quasi-judicial body, and it started with severe teething troubles. The Supreme Court had to help
it find a seat and accommodation for the members. Whether it can perform as effectively as the Court is a moot point, which activists and industrialists will watch with anxiety in the coming months.

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