Dr Raghunandan Chundawat Senior Wildlife Biologist
ACHIEVEMENTS Conducted longest tiger study in Indian history;fellow, Smithsonian Institute;Tiger Gold Award winner
STATUS: Denied entry for tiger study,inquiry on night filming
Like the 13 cases of "criminal trespass" filed by the Karnataka forest department against 18 conservationists and researchers, including three eminent scientists. Their crime, allegedly committed 1-3 years ago? Collecting credible data on the impact of environmentally hazardous mining in Kudremukh National Park (KNP) on Bhadra river. In 2002, the Supreme Court instructed the Kudremukh Iron Ore Company to stop mining in the park by 2005. And to pay the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) Rs 25 crore as compensation. The outcome, two years later? The 13 cases of trespass that have been stayed by the higher courts.Outlook has a list documenting 30 such cases of monetary, mental and physical harassment of wildlife researchers by state forest departments and the central ministry. "What we're seeing is the retarding of biology in India," says Mahesh Rangarajan, environmental historian and author of Battles Over Biology.So deep is the fear of official persecution that most researchers, irrespective of their seniority, refuse to speak on record. Their responses range from the paranoid "Are you recording me?" and the petrified "Don't give me away, I'll never get my
Ph.D." to the pathetic "We'll talk, call us in a few years". A few years? The diplomacy is dismissed and forest officials called "terrorists" and "tinpot dictators" only after you close your reporter's diary. The stories of harassment include research permission denials to punitive fees in lakhs for whistle-blowing (see box).Presently, the MoEF and its state counterparts have total authority over at least 20 per cent of our land area. Only they can grant scientific study permits. These wild habitats are also the only laboratories where wildlife biologists can research. Yet permissions are being denied or withdrawn even to globally recognised institutes like the Bombay Natural History Society, the internationally-affiliated Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), even the Wildlife Institute of India, funded by the MoEF.Presently, the MoEF grants permissions for trapping, radio collaring or tagging any Schedule 1 species for
research. The rest come from state forest departments. Says S.K. Chadha, joint director, wildlife, MoEF: "We want studies that fit our priority areas, not research for pure scientific purposes." Counters Rangarajan: "Scientists don't have to have all the answers. But they do have the right to ask questions."And today, there are serious questions confronting Indian wildlife. How do we scientifically count our tigers? How do we save the Indian rock python? Where have the sparrows gone? India is home to 10,000 species of flora, 12,000 species of birds and 500 species of mammals, many of which are unstudied and near extinction.Conservation begins with information. And our data pool is pitifully shallow. Says Dr Ravi Chellam, UNDP's programme officer (sustainable environment & energy): "To manage, you need credible information, which scientists provide." But in India, even tigers and elephants are inadequately studied, forget frogs and insects. Each year, the World Conservation Union's red list adds species to its threatened lists, and classifies many declining species in India as "data deficient".Dave Ferguson of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) calls India a "magnet for conservation", the largest South Asian country with the most important and largest concentrations of plant and wildlife. USFWS has been a major research funder in India since 1970. Says Ferguson: "Wildlife and conservation are non-political subjects, offering a common ground for working on issues that affect us all."But even if politicians want action, the officials don't act. This March, besides tigers, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh drew attention to our vanishing vultures. The MoEF co-funds the Vulture Care Centre in Pinjore, Haryana. Claims an MoEF spokesperson: "We are giving full cooperation." But delayed permissions this year have resulted in the loss of one season for capturing vultures.There's no forum for relief. Valmik Thapar, member, Tiger Task Force, accused by the CBI of poaching, says this "hound, harass and malign" method has long been used "to keep scientists in the second rung of wildlife bodies".A knowledge lag persists, at policy and individual level. Protesting that there isn't a single chapter devoted to research in the Wildlife Protection Act, Dr Ullas Karanth, conservation scientist, WCS, says, "Laws to deter criminals are applied to curb researchers, who fight vested interests like mining, logging and corruption in protected areas." Like was done with Dr Jagdish Krishnaswamy, fellow with environmental research trust ATREE, whose study of the impact of mining on the sediment discharge into the Bhadra river contributed to the KNP ruling. His study discontinued, Krishnaswamy has "lost almost two years of data". Forest officials have cooperated but one vindictive officer seems to have gone gunning for him.
Dr Jagdish Krishnaswamy, Fellow, ATREE
ACHIEVEMENTS: BTech IIT; PhD in environmental science, Duke University;
author of 20 scientific papers and presentations
STATUS: 'Criminal trespasser 'in case filed by Karnataka forest department
The Wildlife Protection Act classifies scientists in the same category as hunters, who have to be given permits to trap animals for studies. Says Rauf Ali, senior wildlife biologist with
NGO FERAL: "Today if I see a new species of butterfly in our country, I need permission to collect it. We've killed taxonomy, the science of classification."Without biological knowledge there's bureaucratic chaos. On seeking permission to collect frogs, a researcher was instructed to collect just one male and one female specimen: "But with many frog species, you can only determine the sex after dissection." Says another scientist: "A forest department vet wanted 100 ml blood sample from a slender loris that was being radio-collared. The poor creature has only 150 ml of blood!" The need of the century is reconciliation ecology. Senior forest officer Pramod Kant recognises this: "From being forest guards protecting jewels, we must become librarians who invite people for learning." If Kant's idea takes hold, civil society can once again contribute to conserving our wildlife with
biologists. Like naturalist Billy Arjan Singh gave us Dudhwa National Park. Rahmani and Ranjitsinh helped save the Great Indian Bustard in MP's Karera. Nature writer M. Krishnan contributed to the conservation of Tamil Nadu's Pichavaram mangrove wetland.But as biologists get locked out of their living labs, their freedom to study bound and gagged by the bureaucracy, the science and India's wilderness will decline.
While your article highlights the difficulties wildlife scientists face, it doesn’t explain why this divide between them and forest officials exists. With scientists being internationally funded, their loyalties lie elsewhere. They seldom share their information with forest functionaries at the local level and directly seek to sensationalise it through the media. Some are so influential that they can get irksome officers transferred. They also misuse guesthouses, by paying fees meant for staff when they get thousands from their sponsors for accommodation. Our scholars have to understand that we need to work with the poor farmer who lives at subsistence levels near national parks, our poorly paid rangers and forest staff, and utilise this as a collective pool of knowledge to save our wildlife. ‘Tiger’ T.G. Ramesh, on e-mail
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT