Goa needs to choose between mining and water
Dr Anish Andheria, Director, Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT) and Director of Sanctuary Asia, Asia's premier wildlife magazine speaks to The Navhind Times on his recent trip to Goa about funds for rehabilitating forest dwellers, investments made towards the 'Save the Tiger' initiative and the rationale for nature conservation.
BY NESHWIN ALMEIDA|NT NETWORK
Can you shed some light on the Save the Tiger Initiative?
The Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT) joined hands with NDTV to collect funds through a dedicated partnership to implement on the ground level an initiative to save the 1700 odd tigers left in India. Mr. Hemendra Kothari, Chairman Wildlife Conservation Trust, donated 2.5 crores towards the initiative while NDTV ran a 12-hour telethon to get the general public to contribute 2.1 crores. Thus, around '4.6 crores were collected that is used to fund the development of 35 Rapid Response Kits (RRK) which includes 4X4 custom-made Mahindra vehicles, three Hero Honda motorcycles and many important equipment for rescue of wild animals. The Mahindra vehicle is being structurally modified to store equipments for a forest guard to survive and patrol the jungles more efficiently. The major aspect of these RRK's is that WCT wants others to copy the design so that they make a difference to wildlife conservation.
How did the WCT conceptualise this idea?
The basic problem is the shortage of forest guards. Almost 50 per cent vacancies have not been filled up for years. The Forest Department needs to look after the foot-soldiers (forest guards and watchers) much more than they do currently. Forget the equipment, these guards do not have access to clean drinking water, they have to cover miles on foot, and they do not have raincoats or jackets to shield themselves from the rains or cold. So WCT looks at providing these basic amenities. WCT has started working in 24 tiger reserves and may even reduce that to six or seven, that means narrowing down to specific reserves where change can be made or where tiger numbers can be doubled for sure.
When the recent survey said India has 1,700 tigers, it must have been a win for WCT?
Definitely not, the previous survey of 1,400 tigers did not count many regions in the north-east and naxalite dominated regions in the East of India. Now that all regions are surveyed we have to see if the population of the tigers increases in the next three years. Tigers breeds like rats but the encroachment of humans in forest land is a major hindrance.
How do you see Goa as a state that debates tiger habitat?
The conflict here is whether tigers exist in Goa or whether they come here just for prey and return to the neighbouring states. What needs to be understood is that once the prey population increases through stringent protection measures, there is enough forest in Goa to support breeding tigers.
What about the people living in the forest areas?
There are almost 60,000 families living inside the heart of India's tiger reserves, who either carry out farming activities, or venture into the forest to collect wood and fruit or take their animals for grazing. The human presence in the jungle is bound to cause conflict. These families need to be rehabilitated on a priority basis. Buy them land elsewhere, provide them houses, educate their children or give the men folk jobs as forest guards. The government gives one million rupees that's 10 lakh for rehabilitation. However, just offering them money is not enough. The government needs trained officers to channelize this money into their households in a just and effective manner. The Goan forests such as Cotigao, Canacona and Dharbandora in Sanguem taluka, are loaded with people too. Among the parks that have zero or very very few human habitations are Kaziranga in Assam, Pench in Madhya Pradesh and Corbett in Uttarakhand..... and positive results are there for everyone to see.
What does the forest department do to restore the forest cover once these locals are moved out or rehabilitated?
The Government of India announced '600 crore for the protection and regeneration of forests, environmental management and cleaning of rivers and lakes. These funds must be spent to convert these regions into grasslands that will benefit herbivores, which will automatically translate into healthier tiger populations.
Does WCT question the government on rampant mining taking place in forests?
The government especially in Goa should ask itself one simple question. Does it want to choose rapid development for instant yet short-term cash or choose 'Water'? Viable forest covers have been reduced from 22 per cent to just a meagre 5 per cent in the past 100 years. The carbon dioxide presence in the air is over 387parts per million (PPM), over a hundred PPM increase in the last 200 years. It is not enough that the government bathes in the glory of a 11 per cent growth rate. It should let the public know-how much natural wealth/resources (fixed assets) was destroyed to manage this unsustainable growth in GDP?
What about the Goan government's initiative on frogs?
The government and the forest official have shown inclination in saving these amphibians. But concentrating efforts on stopping the consumption and killing of these frogs is not enough. The government needs to curb land filling, the sale of chemical pesticide in the market and mining. These are larger, more dangerous factors that cause a rapid, irreversible depletion of the frog population.