The Modi government is abdicating its responsibility vis-a-vis conservation at a time when India’s natural landscape, including forests and wildlife, face an “ecological holocaust”, says a new book.
An “ecological holocaust has engulfed our forests, rivers, deserts, mountains, seas” says “The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis” (Penguin), authored by wildlife expert Prerna Singh Bindra.
“It threatens to obliterate even the most celebrated of species — the tiger,” says the well-researched, 326-page book. “The Tiger is the collateral damage of what we call progress. Rather, unbridled progress.”
Since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister in May 2014, the promise of “ease of doing business” has been mainly focused on dissolving the existing environment regulatory regimes, says Bindra, who has been fighting to conserve India’s wildlife for over a decade.
The book says that many of the industrial and business projects cleared by the government were actually in crucial wildlife areas, including within national parks, tiger reserves and elephant corridors.
“The other big problem with environment governance currently is that the central government is abdicating its role and responsibility in conservation.”
The Gurgaon-based Bindra says that while Modi announced a whopping 80 per cent hike in the Project Tiger budget, “this jump is all smoke and mirrors. The central government simultaneously slashed its contribution to funding tiger reserves to 60 per cent”.
Saving the forest was crucial for the Indian economy, the book underlines.
India’s forests serve as a carbon sink tank, neutralising over 11 per cent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
“Yet, we continue to clear — at a conservative estimate — no less than 135 hectares of forest a day, diverting it for various projects such as highways, mines and cement factories.”
Bindra says that India’s wildlife was imperilled due to ruthless poaching as well as habitat destruction and fragmentation for “mindless, unplanned, non-inclusive development”.
The author, who served as a member of the National Board for Wildlife in 2010-13, warns against the notion that conservation or a clean environment is not for the national good.
Besides the erosion of will to conserve them, the book says that the dominant discourse views environment, and the laws that govern it, as hindering India’s rapid economic growth.
Environment safeguards painstakingly built over the past two decades have been loosened, according to Bindra.
“Forests are up for grabs,” says the book, adding that rarely has an industry or project been turned down for possible environmental impact.
It says that the loss of forests since the economic reforms began in the 1990s had been monumental.
“Over the past 30 years, 14,000 sq km of forest have been diverted for 23,716 industrial and infrastructure projects including dams, mining, power plants, highways. This works out to approximately 250 sq km of forests felled every year.”
Bindra disputes government claims about increasing forest cover, pointing out that officials count barren plantations, parks, tea gardens and even orchards as “forests”, thus showing an artificial increase.
And tragically, a country so deeply connected to nature — where rivers, animals and trees are worshipped — had come to a point where it considered protecting nature a hurdle.
The author says the 10 years of Congress-led UPA government rule “well and truly shattered the green legacy bequeathed to it by its previous — and powerful — leaders like Indira and Rajiv Gandhi”.
The book asks: “As each day passes, more forests are destroyed, rivers dry up, species are lost… Will we stand by silent and watch the slaughter? Watch the forests fall? Watch, as wild creatures fall off the map of India? … Or will we stand up and fight?”