Press on Environment and Wildlife
Tiger task force report critiqued (Issue of the week, August Week 4 (2005)) Tiger task force report critiqued
The report of tiger task force has been submitted and has attracted a lot of controversy. In an article that appeared in the August 17th issue of The Hindu, K. Ullas Karanth, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society-India Programme, comments on the same and makes his stand clear that tigers and humans cannot co-exist from an ecological perspective. Following is the detailed interview:
What is your assessment of the report of the Tiger Task Force?
Overall, the report has pluses and minuses. There are some very good points that are really positive, and there are some really bad points.
The Tiger Task Force report has generated a lot of controversy. What are the good points you see in it?
The approach is very transparent, and the report has been put on the web. This is very critical as it can be studied, taken apart, and commented upon. In the past such reports were never made public. There is also the suggestion that wildlife reserve management plans and annual plans will be placed in the public domain. In the absence of such transparency and critiquing, a lot mismanagement of tiger habitats is taking place, either through corruption or ignorance.
The other important good point is clearly the recognition that for maintaining a viable breeding population of wild tigers, there must be inviolate places. The report mentions some 37,000 sq. km. in tiger reserves as such potential inviolate space in all our protected areas, but actually there should be more than this. The way the report identifies potential inviolate areas is flawed, but its unanimous emphasis on absolutely inviolate critical tiger habitats is positive.
Also, this report has discredited the total count pugmark census fully and recognises clearly the scientific consensus that we should switch to sampling methods.
It also talks about raising money from end users of forest and wildlife, whether it is irrigation, or mining, dams, tourism, etc., to pay more for tiger conservation. This approach is excellent, and added to the money that would be saved in development sectors through carefully targeted village relocations out of tiger habitats, this can generate sufficient money for that process.
Where has the Task Force lost the opportunities?
There is very good data available on the tiger, on prey densities and population dynamics from Nepal and India where some of us have conducted long-term ecological studies. The Task Force has not really gone into the question of how much inviolate space is needed for the tiger for a viable population, using such good science as a basis. The panel has swallowed hook, line, and sinker the Project Tiger directorate's science-deficient approach for estimating necessary or feasible areas to be kept inviolate.
Secondly, for the past decade forest department-led eco-development projects have been a big distraction, drawing attention and energies away from protection and breeding massive corruption. The Task Force criticises this but then does not take a clear and strong position to end this pursuit of eco-development by the forest department and the consultancy lobbies that back it big time. The Task Force also does not fix responsibility for the gross failure of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. During the 1970s till 1990s the project focus was on protection, while in the 1990s, this shifted to eco-development. Since 2002, Project Tiger and the MoEF entered an ostrich phase, when the problems multiplied. They were in a constant state of denial, leading to the collapse of not just Sariska but also Panna and other places.
Everything is blamed on the Rajasthan State Government. Panna is an ongoing failure and the so-called best managed reserve of Kanha still has a huge number of villages inside it. Yet, responsibility is not fixed even on the State Government. The fact that Project Tiger fiddled while everything happened and must therefore share the blame is forgotten. If officials in Rajasthan have to be suspended, why not their counterparts at the Centre?
How do you view the role of the MoEF in conservation in recent years?
MoEF has done horrendous things during these past four years to weaken the protection to tiger habitats earlier offered by the Forest Conservation Act, by diluting project clearance procedures. Project Tiger, with all its tall talk about landscape approach and so on buries its head in the sand and does nothing. The MoEF and the Director of Project Tiger should have been kept at arm's length by the Task Force, which should have functioned with its own independent secretariat.
Who has to implement the vast agenda that is laid out by the Task Force?
This responsibility surprisingly is assigned to the same MoEF Project Tiger and Wildlife Institute of India. Both these are failing institutions with huge weaknesses. They cannot deliver what is expected. I wish the report had really emphasised more state-level action and greater NGO involvement.
President urges ONGC to take up renewable energy business (August Week 4 (2005)) President A P J Abdul Kalam on Sunday said India’s premier oil company, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), should diversify and enter the renewable energy business of bio-fuel and solar energy. Envisioning the company as a global energy giant, he said: “I would recommend ONGC take the lead and enable the establishment of model bio-diesel plants with Jatropha [the oil-producing Jatropha curcas plant] coming from different parts of the country. ONGC can also undertake research in collaboration with Indian Institute of Petroleum and the automobile industry for progressive increase in use of bio-fuel.” Dr Kalam said the ultimate aim should be to find engines which can run on bio-fuel alone. “This will allow for work to be taken up with a target of at least 30 million tonnes of bio-fuel within the next decade. The second area ONGC can enter in a big way is harnessing solar energy,” he said, speaking at ONGC’s golden jubilee function (Deccan Herald, Tuesday, August 15th). The President said, ONGC should create separate bio-fuel and solar energy enterprises in order to diversify. This, with the aim to make the country energy-independent by 2030. He said there is huge scope to produce diesel from Jatropha and the cost of producing diesel from the shrub can be reduced further from the present level of Rs 20 per litre. “The vision for ONGC, I believe, is to aim to meet at least 50 per cent of the nation’s annual oil and gas needs. Since we are dealing with fossil material resources, it may not be possible to meet this requirement fully from conventional oil exploration and extraction alone,” he said. “The only way it appears to me... is to go the route of renewable energy, apart from further exploration of deep sea oil resources and enhancement of recovery.“ ONGC must consider that it is in the broader business of energy and not merely oil and gas exploration,” the President said.
Writers protest against mining (August Week 4 (2005)) Writers U.R. Ananthamurthy and Poornachandra Tejaswi, wildlife biologist and researcher Ullas Karanth and two others have written to all legislators in Karnataka urging them to help stop mining by Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Ltd. (KIOCL) in the Kudremukh National Park according to the Supreme Court order. They have said that the 2001 order of the Supreme Court has taken note of the biodiversity of the park and the disastrous consequences of mining low grade iron ore in an area that experiences 7,000 mm of rainfall annually. They said the loss to humanity if the park is to vanish can never be assessed. Apart from the wealth of flora and fauna that have made the Western Ghats, of which the park is a part, one of the 18 global ecological hotpots, it is a travesty that mining is being carried on in a place that happens to be the birthplace of the Bhadra, Tunga, Netravathi and the Hemavathi. The scientific analysis accepted by the State Government noted in 2002 that mining in the park generated 2.2 lakh tonnes of silt, which has been allowed to flow and settle in the Bhadra and the reservoir. Accumulation of silt in the left bank of the Bhadra reservoir has affected many farmers and villagers depending on water for irrigation and drinking. The Supreme Court has taken all these factors into consideration, and on a petition by K.M. Chinnappa of Wildlife First Trust ordered in October 2002 that mining should be stopped by this December 31. Despite knowing this, the Government has been entertaining requests to intervene and appeal to the Supreme Court for reviewing its orders, they said.
World Environment Court proposed (August Week 4 (2005)) Various organisations, especially those engaged in anti-Cola campaigns, stressed the need of "World Environment Court". At a function held at Pallath Raman Memorial Hall at Fort Kochi on Tuesday, Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha leader CK Janu emphasised the need for such a court which would have a panel of experts from various fields including environment. Ms Janu inaugurated the seminar, organised in connection with the 'Coca-Cola - Pepsi Quit Kerala' campaign. In her inaugural speech Ms Janu criticised the UDF Government and the judicial system to protect the rights of the sidelined local communities. "The authorities failed to protect the rights of these communities on natural resources," the tribal leader said (The Pioneer, Wednesday, August 17, 2005). Analysing the situation members of various organisations who participated in the seminar stressed the need for a new judicial system to protect the environment and the native communities. "The World Environment Court will function on international level and will coordinate with other similar national activists' organisations," Mr Majeendran, an activist of National Alliance for Peoples Movement, (NAPM), which organised the seminar said. The seminar concluded that joint efforts were needed for setting up environment court. Majeendran added that the new organisation would not be a common NGO and it would not receive foreign funds. "It will be a congregation of those protesting organisations which stand for common men's genuine issues. Representatives of Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha, Rashtriya Mahasabha, Farmers Relief Forum, Plachimada Solidarity Samithy, Kerala Matsya Thozhlali Federation participated.
Greenpeace concerned with e-waste problem (August Week 4 (2005)) Concerned at India fast turning into a dumping ground for hazardous wastes, Greenpeace has asked the government to formulate standards for disposal of electronic waste (e-waste) — a new addition — and totally ban its import. The Central Pollution Control Board has constituted a national working group to address the issue. Releasing a report of its scientific analysis of waste waters, ashes, soils and sediments from electronic waste recycling yards in India and China, Greenpeace said toxic chemicals, including heavy metals, were released in the workplace and surroundings during each stage of recycling, resulting in environmental pollution and a serious threat to human health. Advocating recycling in a safer and contained environment, it has suggested that corporate houses also take responsibility by adopting Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and stewardship provisions, which make the manufacturers responsible for treatment and disposal of their products as well as for selection of material to promote waste minimisation. Samples collected from and around recycling facilities at Seelampur, Jafrabad, Shastri Park, Mayapuri, Burari and adjoining areas of Delhi establish that lead, cadmium, acids and organic contaminants were being released into the environment because of inadequate waste management practices. The report "Toxic Tech: Recycling Electronic Wastes in China and India" was released after the European Union directive on waste from electrical and electronic equipment came into effect. The directive, which regulates the handling of e-waste in the EU region, has yet to be implemented in many countries and India and China have been left to deal with the waste not only from the EU but also the United States. A huge quantity of electronic waste reaches India illegally under the garb of recycling.
Coca-cola ordered to stop production at Plachimada (August Week 4 (2005)) The Kerala State Pollution Control Board (PCB) has directed Coke to ‘‘stop production’’ at its Plachimada plant in Palakkad district with immediate effect. The plant had been in the eye of a storm with environmental protection crusaders demanding its closure for about three years, alleging that the plant was polluting and over-exploiting groundwater, thereby depriving locals of drinking water. In its order, the PCB said the company’s reply to its July-1 notice seeking a clarification on the source of cadmium in the sludge discharged by the plant was not satisfactory. ‘‘Although the company admits that cadmium is present in the sludge, no explanation has been offered about its source. It was detected by the board that due to cadmium in the effluent as well as the sludge, the groundwater in the vicinity was found contaminated,’’ the order said. The board also said that despite specific instructions to provide drinking water facility to people in the affected areas as per the directive of the SC Monitoring Committee, the company had not done it. The board also charged the company with failing to install reverse osmosis system for better effluent-treatment. While issuing the order, the PCB rejected the company’s written argument terming the board’s earlier notice as ‘ultra vires,’ prejudicial and amounting to judicial indiscipline. The PCB held that no person, institution, establishment or company had got the right to pollute drinking water as declared by the SC and the Kerala HC.
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