Man Vs Beast: An Unequal Fight Over Territory
NEW DELHI: The recent spat between Maneka Gandhi, Minister for Women and Child Development and Prakash Javadekar, Minister for Environment on the killing of 200 Nilgais in Bihar who have been destroying the crops of farmers opens the battle lines between the lobbies of development and issues that closely touch the people.
However this is one of those rare times that the environment ministry is on the side of farmers. Maneka Gandhi is where she has been standing ever since she managed through a Supreme Court ruling to ensure that stray dogs in the country will almost become a protected species, however ferocious they become.
The reaction of the Janata Dal (U) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar to the intervention of Maneka Gandhi is typical,"If Maneka's heart cries for these wild animals which are destroying the livelihood of marginal farmers in Bihar, she should keep them in her house as pets."
This trend was also visible in a judgment of the Supreme Court in January,2016 which said that tigers are important but not at the cost of development and economic development. The judgment was in response to a dispute between the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and the Bombay High Court with regard to the four-laning of a 37 kilometre stretch between Jabalpur and Nagpur on NH-7 that passes through the Pench Tiger Reserve.
The Court reflected the voice of the common man when it stated when it ruled, “Tigers are important.But what happens to the movement of traffic.It is not the first time that a national highway is passing through a reserved forest.We are for protection of tigers.”
This ruling of the SC finally settled the issue by saying that the final jurisdiction on this issue vested with the High Court. It also asked why the NGO that had filed the PIL did not take up issues of poaching of tigers with was killing more tigers than road traffic.
The story was displayed prominently on the front pages of the national media particularly the English press.But normally there is a strange dichotomy between the priorities of the national media particularly those that function from Delhi,and the media that is nearer to the rural areas and reflects their concerns and their priorities.
This time the stand taken about the need for roads as against the projects to ‘Save the Tiger’ whose population incidentally,is already on the rise,got duly reflected in the Hindi papers.
On January 22, the day after the SC order, the Amar Ujala carried the following report which may be about Uttarakhand, but the intent and the focus was more than evident.
"Even 15 years after the formation of Uttarakhand over 5000 villages of the state remain without its life-line its pucca roads.
Uttarakhand has about 34 per cent villages that are still waiting for roads. The NABARD's state focus paper for 2016/17 also focuses on this issue.
This NABARD report makes it clear that the position of the villages of the hills is much worse. While about 99 villages in Udhamsingh Nagar have pucca roads, in Champawat district more than 62 per cent villages are yet to see pucca roads.
Besides transport roads also provide the means to take the products of farmers go the Mandis. In Almora, Bageshwar and Pithoragarh the people are forced to travel by rickety modes of transport due to the pitiable condition of roads."
Even the running of high-speed trains was considered a major hazard for elephants in Dehradun when the state was created, some of whom got killed when they came on the railway tracks.To combat this problem the forest lobby came out with a weird suggestion that high speed trains should not be allowed to traverse through the state at night.
Such conflicts in the Indian society between the seemingly warring interests is not confined to one state or region.It is best exemplified by a story carried by the South Asian Research Centre for Advertisement, Journalism and Cartoons (SARCFAJC) dated August 11, 2007-
When a speeding truck killed four kanwarias (Pilgrims) on Allahabad Varanasi highway; the angry kanwarias set the truck on fire and damaged three dozen other vehicles. Likewise when a herd of wild elephants was crossing the railway track in Assam, a speeding goods train mowed down two calves. Result- angry tuskers, 40 in numbers, blocked the route.
Forest officials were called who persuaded the herd to move towards the forest. Big deal, what were the elephants doing on that railway track anyway, it’s their fault- some would say. But experts point out that it’s the railways that has encroached on elephant’s corridor (Asian Age).
Both humans & elephants protest against injustice. But unlike humans, elephants don’t set vehicles on fire. If only they could ask us to pay the price for encroaching on their forest land. Then perhaps, we would have termed them - selfish giant?” (Asian Age)
Elephants by the way, are more in the news than tigers because they are more adventurous.While the foresters are only concerned when there are reports of tuskers being killed for Ivory, the villagers near the forests are more petrified of the damage they cause to their crops, particularly if they have sugar cane fields.
The elephant is attracted by the sweet smell of the sugarcane and will cross all barriers to have a fill of his favourite dish.
Farmers in the vicinity of Dehradun told this writer that the English media rarely comes to their help because they cannot organise lavish lunches and dinner parties for them.
On the other hand the Hindi papers dutifully report on the damage to the crops rather than on saving the wild life.
The following report was carried by Dainik Bhaskar in May 2015.
"Ranchi/ Ramgarh.-Elephants caused heavy damage to the crops in village Murudih. About 8!elephants entered the farm of Kartik Mehtha and ruined the vegetables and the mango trees."
A similar report appeared in ‘Amar Ujala’ about elephants of Dudhwa National Park on the New Year of 2016-
"Now elephants destroy crops in village Bela
Elephants in Belakalan destroyed crops of lahi, wheat and sugar-cane in the 8 acre farm of Hasnain Usmani,Barati, Roj Ali,Rahees,Mushtaq,Virendra Kumar,Mushtaq, Liaqat etc. They have asked the forest authorities to compensate them for the loss.
On Thursday night at about 10 pm two dozen elephants from the National Dudhwa Park attacked the farms of these villagers and the poor villagers spent the whole night trying to prevent the elephants from destroying their crops from the tuskers who were on rampage."
However the allegation that the English media is not covering the problems of the villages is not exactly true now because even if newspapers do not have full-timers they have stringers in small towns or the state capital who are in touch with the ground reality.The Hindu, Times of India and even the Business Standard have been reporting these events.But the problem is that such news is even today rare and the circulation of the paper is confined to towns near the state capital and the news is not carried by the Delhi edition.
This conflict or bias in environmental concerns is again clearly visible while reporting about the hydro-power projects.While the media in Delhi is all for a ban on these projects because of environmental issues voiced by experts sitting in TV studios, the local media is more concerned about the fact that even though Uttarakhand,for instance, one lakh homes in Uttarakhand do not have even an electric pole, there are villages where bachelors find it impossible to get brides because girls refuse to marry in villages where they have to rush to the border of the village to get their mobiles charged in the 67 th year of India's republic.
Incidentally, this problem is prevalent all across the country and not confined to just the hill States. As reports in newspapers like Indian Express,Times of India, Business Standard show, this problem has wrecked the social life of places like village Sheetal Khera near Lucknow, Choti Mahuli-Kachahari Tola in Bihar, village Purva in Uttar Pradesh and many more.
But as said earlier, even when these stories are covered extensively they do not find a place on the front pages in New Delhi where decisions are made. An NGO came to Delhi to address the media at the Press Club with rural women who spoke about their plight in these villages but they did not get much coverage in Delhi.
However at the end of the day there is no denying the fact that tthere are some exceptions, but increasingly few.