May 20, 2000
The year 2000 has been so far a year of horrors for the natural world. It started in January with the worst ever haul of tiger and leopard derivatives from a small town in UP. At the same time, endless reports of diminishing forests and never-ending scams of timber mafias shook the world of conservation. Now comes news of drought.
The ignorant political leadership of this country has never bothered about this country’s natural wealth, its forests, trees and wilderness. They have merely watched, over the decades, the incessant looting of natural resources. Big business has increased its turnover from mining from Rs 48 crore at independence to Rs 40,000 crore today. Yet nothing has gone back to repair and restore the land thus defaced. Conservationists who opened their mouths on this were dubbed anti-poor and anti-development.
The ministry of environment & forests (MoEF) puts the rate of exploitation at Rs 50,000 crore each year it’s probably closer to 80,000 crore. Most of the looting takes place on forest land. Some people have valued this land at close to a trillion dollars. Our bureaucratic planning commission knows all these figures but refuses to allocate enough money each year to protect, regenerate and restore it. Ignorance is all pervasive. Our delightful finance ministers refuse to make any mention of India’s great natural treasury the most valuable part of the country in any of their budgetary speeches. One of our greatest tragedies is that prime ministers in the last decade have treated the MoEF like some non-existent department.
Yet, this ministry should rightly have the same status as defence or home. The reason is simple. If you rip the natural world apart, you die. That is what has started to happen in India. A tiny minority has got super rich tearing into the natural world, while the majority of our people have entered a phase of drought and devastation. Let’s also not forget that besides the excessive exploitation of forest land by legal and illegal business interests, this land also absorbs pressures from 400 million livestock, the timber needs of a billion people and the greed of every mafia in village, town and city. And still the issue is not a priority.
We create security forces for airports, industries, ports, but not for this invaluable sector that officially comprises 20 per cent of India. It’s time for a wake-up call. Let’s create a think tank, have a brainstorming session, educate ourselves about nature. Let’s act now, otherwise we will end up digging the graves for the Indians of the future, yet unborn.
The writer is a well-known tiger conservationist
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