Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The tiger, the deer and the tourist

Picture and Text by my good friend Aditya Laghate.
This image from Aditya won the 3rd prize in the Sanctuary Wildlife Photography contest 2008

The Story behind the winning picture - Aditya Laghate

Dark grey clouds were looming over the forest. It was pin drop silent! We entered the Bandhavgad Tiger Reserve with no hope. As we drove slowly on the assigned route, we stopped the gypsy only once to show my campers, 3 Grey Hornbills on a distant tree top. Hope of seeing anything was at a record low! Two small kids with me fell asleep, two uncles & my younger brother were stiff bored. No wind, no bird call, nothing!!

Slowly our gypsy rolled down the slope from where we approached the Rajbehera Meadow. As we came close, we saw a Jackal jumping at the edge on the road near the grass. A sudden rush of excitement to see something in a dead forest, took out our binoculars and examined the area. Our hearts started pounding hard by what we saw. The Jackals had managed to isolate a Spotted Deer Fawn from the heard and were about to make the hunt. On the far edge we saw another Jackal walking towards the fawn. We waited with bated breath wondering what will happen next.

As we were watching in front, our guide softly said, "Tiger..." and we turned around to see the huge Rajbehera male appear from the nala. It was double excitement! I was wondering will the tiger come towards the fawn and the jackal, what will happen when the three confront each other! But as I again turned around to see what was happening with our Jackal and Deer, the Jackal had done the vanishing act! But the fawn was still there standing in a paralysed state.

The Tiger, a fully fed male, with still traces of blood on his face and limbs walked slowly in the meadow and approached a deer herd standing at a distance. The herd, on seeing the tiger ran away. The tiger then started waking towards the gypsy. The tiger was not aware of the deer fawn standing near us, as it was completely hidden by the dry grass.

As the tiger approached us, it saw the deer fawn and ran to capture it. What ensured in front of us was a rare chance of seeing a tiger on the hunt!

During this entire episode,there were only three vehicles at the meadow. One was ours and two of them were van rented by a television crew, claimed to be from Discovery Channel by the guide and driver. One of the vehicles had the filiming crew and the other was the pilot vehicle. The two television vehicles were at the far end of the meadow and had not seen or realised abt the tiger coming out in the meadow. On seeing the herd of Spotted Deer running out the meadow, they realised that the Tiger was on the scene.

The television crew it seems were waiting for two or three days to film this huge male, but were not getting a chance. The pilot gypsy, seen in the picture, was rushing at the scene un-aware of the drama un-folding there. They wanted to stop the tiger from getting into the thicket on the other side of the road. As the vehicle approached us, visual signals from us were not good enough for them to stop. In the photo it can be seen how the tiger was distracted by a moving vehicle, which just managed to screech to a halt!

The photo is a visual proof of how tourism is adding pressure on the forest inhabitants. I would have loved to take this story to the forest officials, but due to inadequate proof, I cannot support all my claims.

I will sum up the entire episode as Sanctuary Asia puts it, "There was no cruelty involved*. In the Jungle, the law is simple - eat or be eaten"

* I add, on part of the animals - no, but on part of the tourists - yes!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Onge deaths - NDTV report

It's one of the oldest tribes facing a threat for their survival. The death of eight members of the primitive Onge tribe after drinking liquid from a can in the Andamans earlier this week has shocked anthropologists.

They want forensic experts to identify the killer liquid and also find out how it reached them.

The Onges knew the difference between alcohol and other chemicals, says the director, Anthropological Survey of India, so they couldn't have had the killer liquid by mistake.

"The Onges, as we understand, are not that primitive. They can speak Hindi; some can even speak English. And they are able to distinguish what is alcohol, what is petrol, what is diesel. We need to understand, we need to know the facts," said VR Rao, Director-In-Charge, Anthropological Survey of India.

"Andaman and Nicobar Islands host four primitive tribes -- the Onges who now number 93, the Jarwas who number 320, the Shompens who number 382 and the Sentinelese, an estimated 100 to 150 -- who have virtually no contact with civilization," said Merriam Ros, Survivors International, NGO.

A Jarwa male was shot dead by poachers recently. The Andaman Grand Trunk Road or ATR that runs through their settlement is also considered a threat.

"As anthropologists we always feel that ATR construction has in fact disturbed the local tribal life. In that way, we say ATR should be closed," Rao said.

For thousands of years the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have sheltered the primitive tribes. But the islands are clearly no longer safe havens against extinction.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

City of Flyovers

City Of Flyovers
When I first heard this epithet to describe Delhi's growth aspirations, I laughed it off. But six years on, as I see that vision turning into reality I have frightfully realised how revealing that is of our model of development and how harmful it has been for a vast majority of us....
Debarshi Dasgupta


The first time – as an undergraduate student in 2002 – when I heard the epithet "city of flyovers" being used by government officials to describe Delhi’s growth aspirations, I laughed it off. I credited the uninspiring and dull description of my city to our bureaucrats and their political bosses. But six years on as I see that vision turning into reality – Delhi since then either has or is building close to 80 flyovers – I have frightfully realised how revealing that epithet is of our model of development and how harmful it has been for a vast majority of us.

It tells us the story of an India that skirts problems rather than find sustainable solutions for them in pursuit of rapid development. Of how the country has opted for quick-fix solutions that benefit a few in the short-run but end up being problems for most in the long-run. This has led to a model of urban planning that has largely pre-empted the majority of the city’s population from developing any stakes in Delhi’s well-being. This is equally true of any other Indian city.

Photo courtesy: delhitourism.nic.in

To go back to Delhi’s flyovers, the government has delightedly realised that they are the best way to get rid of the urban chaos that has arisen out of absence of any planning and abundance of greed. Befittingly, public transport in Delhi has always got the short end of the stick. Bus routes were contracted out in return for a certain commission to influential individuals rather than being run by one consortium. This has led to the killer phenomenon we only know so well – Bluelines, competing buses that run over people as they race on Delhi’s congested roads to rake in more passengers. Am I to believe that a government that seeks to build and operate new-age nuclear reactors cannot operate an efficient and safe fleet of buses? Try telling that to the families of hundreds killed by Bluelines.

The government may have now gone ahead with the gradual introduction of low-floor buses but it is too late. Cars and two wheelers have already taken over our roads. Jams are inevitable given the vehicular growth and irrespective of the number of flyovers built. A Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) survey found that while private vehicles account for 67.6% of the vehicles in India and occupy 67.1% of the road width, they carry only 37% of the commuters. Buses, on the other hand, make up 24.4% of the vehicles and occupy 38% of the roads. They, however, carry 61% of the commuters. Likewise, blueprints of rotary mode separators, with traffic separation at distinct vertical axes and designed around the comfort of pedestrians, have not been looked at as an alternative to flyovers by the Delhi government.

So, to enable these private vehicles to run smoothly the government has been on a road-expansion and flyover-building spree. That has pushed the majority among us – pedestrians and slow-moving transport such as rickshaws – off the roads. We cannot walk on them anymore. Pedestrians now are sent either overground or underground to make way for speeding traffic. It doesn’t matter if you have to walk nearly a kilometre just to reach the nearest underpass to get to the other side. Or if you are left wondering how to walk to your destination at major flyovers such as the one at AIIMS or Dhaula Kuan. Asinine planning like this means that people forcibly risk their lives daily as they take the easiest route by leaping across road dividers to cross over.

Why can’t traffic moving in the heart of the city stop to make way for pedestrians? Probably because the few who benefit the most wish no roadblocks as they hurtle away to superpowerdom, just the way India develops rapidly without any concern for the damage inflicted on either the marginalised majority or the environment.

Encroachment of public space in our cities for promoting private interests is also worryingly picking up. Urban public art – so important to cultivate a sense of belonging to a city – has been used for other interests.

Photo courtesy: Debarshi Dasgupta

Recently put up at the AIIMS flyover, "Sprouts", an urban art installation made with steel from Jindal, is less of art and more of avarice. To be fair, its dubious artistic merit may be defended by some. But what is certain is that the Delhi Urban Arts Commission – a public body meant to vet urban art – was never consulted before the installation of Sprouts. Why should a public artwork, aimed at celebrating the "arrival of a new India", be put up so undemocratically? Why should scarce green space – used by people to lounge about freely – be pulled down to make way for more steel? And that too if it is was built at a cost of around Rs 4 crore and will be maintained for Rs 1.5 lakh each month.

Even the newly designed bus stops – made again with steel from Jindal – are of little public convenience. They can’t seat more than ten at a time. This in a city of over 14 million where the average waiting period for a bus is at least 10 minutes. And if it happens to be in summer, tough luck! Even an empty spot is of no use, lest you are willing to scald your posterior on the burning steel in Delhi’s 45 degree Celsius heat. Comparatively, the earlier blue cement bus stops offered more shade – thereby being cooler – and had seating for more than 50.

Photo courtesy: Debarshi Dasgupta

Unfortunately, what they didn’t have was space for advertisements. So while the new bus stops are more like billboards with nearly all of the display area dedicated to advertisements, nobody has thought of a map marking the various bus routes telling commuters which bus to take to get where. That makes one wonder if Delhi’s bus stops are really meant for the people or are simply developed as revenue generators for the government.

Likewise, the 2010 Commonwealth Games, which should have served as an occasion to marshal public involvement in developing the city, has been reduced pretty much to a private-limited exercise. The games village being build on the banks of the Yamuna is a glorious example of that. The government cares two hoots and has utter indignation about opposition from environmentalists who have been alerting us to the perils of building on the banks of the Yamuna. Even the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute warned against any permanent construction on the riverbed in 2005. That it later changed its position, arguing the construction of Akshardham temple nearby had removed the risk of flooding, leaves us very little guesswork to do.

From the activity on at the site, it would seem all is well but the status of the games village is still unclear as the Delhi High Court is yet to rule whether it should stand there or not. It has appointed another committee to inquire and examine. The tactic is simple: hem and haw till it is too late and then use the India’s-prestige-is-at-stake argument to steamroll all opposition.You would have to be demented at the least to believe that if the village, if found to be genuinely harmful to the Yamuna riverbed in a year’s time from now, would be relocated! Meanwhile, having acquired land at cheap rates (whether riverbed can be termed as land is another matter of dispute), the real estate developers of the Commonwealth Games village are already advertising and unabashedly soliciting buyers for the flats being built for the athletes. One only hopes the promise made by the government in the bid document of using part of the games village as a students’ residence is adhered to.

The signs are ominous. Rather than a legacy that we all can be proud of, the games are likely to bequeath little more than a few richer corrupt officials at Delhi Development Authority, the real estate developer of the village who would have made a killing by selling horrendously expensive apartments, and the rich who will be able to pay for them and live there.

I want to be part of this city’s growth but it is being developed rapidly in a manner that doesn’t involve public concern or encourage public involvement. Most people are too busy surviving and paying the cost for such short-sightedness. As much as we would like to believe in the spiel of Delhi being a "global city", the truth is starkly the opposite. The way things are today in 2008, Delhi seems more like a medieval fiefdom of the privileged few.

Postscript: The Supreme Court on December 5 stayed Delhi High Court orders stalling constructions in the upcoming Commonwealth Games Village

Friday, December 12, 2008

15 Onges to go back to settlement today

THE DAILY TELEGRAMS, December 12, 2008

15 Onges to go back to settlement today

Port Blair, Dec 11

sixteen Onges were evacuated and airlifted by helicopter from Dugong Creek and admitted in GB Pant Hospital recently as all displayed signs of severe poisoning. The A & N Administration did not leave any stone unturned to ensure that the Onges were given prompt treatment. Unfortunately, one Onge, whose condition was very serious, expired in the early hours of yesterday morning. The other fifteen Onges are responding well and are now considered fit to be discharged from GB Pant Hospital. Accordingly, they will be discharged from GB Pant Hospital tomorrow to go back to their settlement in Dugong Creek, Little Andaman. It is learnt from the hospital authorities that these 15 Onges will get the speed boat tomorrow morning to go to their homes, informed the Secretary, Tribal Welfare, Smt SKP Sodhi here today.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Onge Death toll is now eight

Sent by Denis Giles
Email: denisgiles@yahoo.com

Andaman Chronicle: Dec. 11, 2008

8 Members of Onge Tribe Die After Consuming Mysterious Liquid In
Dugong Creek

Port Blair, Dec. 10: Eight members of Onge tribe died while 15 have
been admitted in G.B. Pant Hospital, Port Blair after consuming
mysterious liquid on 7th Dec. 2008. The mysterious liquid filled in a
plastic can was found by the Onge members at the beach side in Dugong
Creek. Mistaking it to be alcohol, a group of 23 tribesmen consumed
it late in the evening hours on 7th Dec.
Soon after consuming the toxic liquid, 5 died on the spot while 2
died when they were being evacuated on 9th Dec. 2008. According to
the latest reports, out of 16 members flown to Port Blair, one could
not survive even after reaching G.B. Pant Hospital and the condition
of another patient is critical. He is presently admitted in the
Intensive Care Unit.

The names of 14 surviving members admitted in Medical Surgical Ward 2
of G.B. Pant are: Tana Guru 55 yrs, Thai 55 yrs, Bellai 50 yrs,
Suresh 25 yrs, Prashant 18 yrs, Jain 28 yrs, Dilip 8 yrs, Mohan Lall
50 yrs, Chogagoe 46 yrs, Bharat 12 yrs, Sani 15 yrs, Santosh 28 yrs,
Rakesh 26 yrs and Tata Nagi 55 yrs. It is learnt that Tata Nagi 55
is suffering from vision problem since the time of the incident.

Lt. Governor orders inquiry into the death of Onge tribe: The Lt.
Governor, Lt. General (Retd.) Bhopinder Singh, PVSM, AVSM accompanied
by the Chief Secretary, Shri Vivek Rae, Director General of Police,
Shri Ranjit Narayan and senior officers of the A&N Administration
today visited the Onge settlement of Dugong Creek in Little Andaman
and had first hand information on the incident of death of the Onge
tribal. The poisonous liquid has been sent for chemical analysis.
The Lt. Governor discussed the issue with senior officers and ordered
an inquiry into the incident. Soon after returning to Port Blair
today, the Lt. Governor visited G. B. Pant Hospital and interacted
with the Onge patients who are recuperating in the hospital. He
further directed all the concerned authorities to enforce strict
measures for ensuring the safety and security of all the tribal
people in the Islands so that such incidents do not take place in

Later, a meeting was held under the Chairmanship of the Lt. Governor
at Raj Niwas in which various issues pertaining to the welfare of the
tribal population and measures to be taken for protecting the
primitive tribe from such incidents in future were discussed.
The Lt. Governor has issued instructions to the Police authorities to
ensure strict compliance of convoy system on the ATR and emphasized
that any violation of the convoy system be dealt with strictly by
them. Measures to close the ATR to the tourists in the near future to
protect the primitive Jarawa tribe were also discussed.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

5 Onge die of toxic drink; 15 others seriously ill

Andaman tribesmen die of toxic drink
9 Dec 2008, 1430 hrs IST, PTI

http://timesofindia .indiatimes. com/Pollution/ Andaman_tribesme n_die_of_ toxic_drink/ articleshow/ 3813023.cms

PORT BLAIR: Five Onge aboriginal tribesmen, whose population has been
dwindling, died and 15 others took ill after consuming a toxic chemical at
Dugong Creek of Little Andaman island of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

"Onge tribals have drunk the chemical mistaking it to be alcohol last
night from a plastic can that had got washed ashore from the Bay of
Bengal at Dugong Creek," said South Andaman district SP Ashok Chand.

A medical team led by deputy director R C Kar had gone to the far flung
island, about 125-km south-west of Port Blair, to provide emergency
medical service to the seriously ill tribesmen.

They would be flown to Port Blair for further treatment as the remote
area lacked proper healthcare facility, Chand said.

With the death of five Onge tribesmen, the island's population of the
tribe has come down to 95.

According to official sources the population of Onge tribals, who
numbered 672 in 1901, had dwindled to 100 recently.

The Ghost of the Mountains

The Ghost of the Mountains - New book from Kalpavriksh

Kalpavriksh and Snow Leopard Conservancy-India Trust (Leh) have published a story book for children titled “The Ghost of the Mountains.” The story is based on a true life incident where the life of a snow leopard, an endangered animal, is saved by a young lad in the village of Ang.
Kalpavriksh has been involved (in collaboration with Snow Leopard Conservancy-India Trust) with a locale-specific conservation education programme for children in Ladakh for the past three years. Under the programme localised educational material has been developed, including this story book.
The book has been authored by Sujatha Padmanabhan and illustrated by Madhuvanti Anantharajan

To obtain a copy of the book please contact Anuradha Arjunwadkar at kvbooks@vsnl.net

Monday, December 8, 2008

Hotel Taj: Icon of whose India?


Resilience was another word that annoyed the pundits of news channels and their patrons this time. But the same channels celebrated resilience when bombs went off in trains and markets killing and maiming the Aam Aadmis.
GNANI SANKARAN explores the class biases inherent in the media coverage.

Posted Tuesday, Dec 02 22:58:17, 2008

Watching at least four English news channels, surfing from one another during the last 60 hours of terror strike made me feel a terror of another kind, the terror of assaulting one's mind and sensitivity with cameras, sound bites and non-stop blabbers. All these channels have been trying to manufacture my consent for a big lie called - Hotel Taj the icon of India.

Whose India, whose Icon?

It is a matter of great shame that these channels simply did not bother about the other icon that faced the first attack from terrorists - the Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station. CST is the true icon of Mumbai. It is through this railway station hundreds of Indians from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Tamilnadu have poured into Mumbai over the years, transforming themselves into Mumbaikars and built the Mumbai of today along with the Marathis and Kolis

But the channels would not recognise this. Nor would they recognise the thirty odd dead bodies strewn all over the platform of CST. No Barkha Dutt went there to tell us who they were. But she was at Taj to show us the damaged furniture and reception lobby braving the guards. And the TV cameras did not go to the government run JJ hospital to find out who those 26 unidentified bodies were. Instead they were again invading the battered Taj to try in vain for a scoop shot of the dead bodies of the page 3 celebrities.

In all probability, the unidentified bodies could be those of workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh migrating to Mumbai, arriving by train at CST without cell phones and pan cards to identify them. Even after 60 hours after the CST massacre, no channel has bothered to cover in detail what transpired there.

The channels conveniently failed to acknowledge that the Aam Aadmis of India surviving in Mumbai were not affected by Taj, Oberoi and Trident closing down for a couple of weeks or months. What mattered to them was the stoppage of BEST buses and suburban trains even for one hour. But the channels were not covering that aspect of the terror attack. Such information at best merited a scroll line, while the cameras have to be dedicated for real time thriller unfolding at Taj or Nariman Bhavan.

The so called justification for the hype the channels built around heritage site Taj falling down (CST is also a heritage site), is that Hotel Taj is where the rich and the powerful of India and the globe congregate. It is a symbol or icon of power of money and politics, not India. It is the icon of the financiers and swindlers of India. The Mumbai and India were built by the Aam Aadmis who passed through CST and Taj was the oasis of peace and privacy for those who wielded power over these mass of labouring classes. Leopold club and Taj were the haunts of rich spoilt kids who would drive their vehicles over sleeping Aam Aadmis on the pavement, the Mafiosi of Mumbai forever financing the glitterati of Bollywood (and also the terrorists) , Political brokers and industrialists.

It is precisely because Taj is the icon of power and not people that the terrorists chose to strike. The terrorists have understood after several efforts that the Aam Aadmi will never break down even if you bomb her markets and trains. He/she was resilient because that is the only way he/she can even survive.

Resilience was another word that annoyed the pundits of news channels and their patrons this time. What resilience, enough is enough, said Pranoy Roy's channel on the left side of the channel spectrum. Same sentiments were echoed by Arnab Goswami representing the right wing of the broadcast media whose time is now. Can Rajdeep be far behind in this game of one-upmanship over TRPs ? They all attacked resilience this time. They wanted firm action from the government in tackling terror.

The same channels celebrated resilience when bombs went off in trains and markets killing and maiming the Aam Aadmis. The resilience of the ordinary worker suited the rich business class of Mumbai since work or manufacture or film shooting did not stop. When it came to them, the rich shamelessly exhibited their lack of nerves and refused to be resilient themselves. They cry for government intervention now to protect their private spas and swimming pools and bars and restaurants, similar to the way in which Citibank, General Motors and the ilk cry for government money when their coffers are emptied by their own ideologies.

The terrorists have learnt that the ordinary Indian is unperturbed by terror. For one whose daily existence itself is a terror of government sponsored inflation and market sponsored exclusion, pain is something he has learnt to live with. The rich of Mumbai and India Inc are facing the pain for the first time and learning about it just as the middle classes of India learnt about violation of human rights only during emergency, a cool 28 years after independence.

And human rights were another favourite issue for the channels to whip at times of terrorism. Arnab Goswami in an animated voice wondered where were those champions of human rights now, not to be seen applauding the brave and selfless police officers who gave up their life in fighting terrorism. Well, the counter question would be where were you when such officers were violating the human rights of Aam Aadmis. Has there ever been any 24 hour non stop coverage of violence against dalits and adivasis of this country?

This definitely was not the time to manufacture consent for the extra legal and third degree methods of interrogation of police and army but Arnabs don't miss a single opportunity to serve their class masters, this time the jingoistic patriotism came in handy to whitewash the entire uniformed services.

The sacrifice of the commandos or the police officers who went down dying at the hands of ruthless terrorists is no doubt heart rending but in vain in a situation which needed not just bran but also brain. Israel has a point when it says the operations were misplanned resulting in the death of its nationals here.

The Kakares and Salaskars would not be dead if they did not commit the mistake of travelling by the same vehicle. It is a basic lesson in management that the top brass should never travel together in crisis. The terrorists, if only they had watched the channels, would have laughed their hearts out when the Chief of the Marine commandos, an elite force, masking his face so unprofessionally in a see-through cloth, told the media that the commandos had no idea about the structure of the Hotel Taj which they were trying to liberate. But the terrorists knew the place thoroughly, he acknowledged.

Is it so difficult to obtain a ground plan of Hotel Taj and discuss operation strategy thoroughly for at least one hour before entering? This is something even an event manager would first ask for, if he had to fix 25 audio systems and 50 CCtvs for a cultural event in a hotel. Would not Ratan Tata have provided a plan of his ancestral hotel to the commandos within one hour considering the mighty apparatus at his and government's disposal? Are satellite pictures only available for terrorists and not the government agencies? In an operation known to consume time, one more hour for preparation would have only improved the efficiency of execution.

Sacrifices become doubly tragic in unprofessional circumstances. But the Aam Aadmis always believe that terror-shooters do better planning than terrorists. And the gullible media in a jingoistic mood would not raise any question about any of these issues. They after all have their favourite whipping boy – the politician the eternal entertainer for the non-voting rich classes of India.

Arnabs and Rajdeeps would wax eloquent on Nanmohan Singh and Advani visiting Mumbai separately and not together showing solidarity even at this hour of national crisis. What a farce? Why can't these channels pool together all their camera crew and reporters at this time of national calamity and share the sound and visual bites which could mean a wider and deeper coverage of events with such a huge

human resource to command? Why should Arnab and Rajdeep and Barkha keep harping every five minutes that this piece of information was exclusive to their channel, at the time of such a national crisis? Is this the time to promote the channel? If that is valid, the politician promoting his own political constituency is equally valid. And the duty of the politician is to do politics, his politics. It is for the people to evaluate that politics.

And terrorism is not above politics. It is politics by other means. To come to grips with it and to eventually eliminate it, the practice of politics by proper means needs constant fine tuning and improvement. Decrying all politics and politicians, only helps terrorists and dictators who are the two sides of the same coin. And the rich and powerful always prefer terrorists and dictators to do business with.

Those caught in this crossfire are always the Aam Aadmis whose deaths are not even mourned - the taxi driver who lost the entire family at CST firing, the numerous waiters and stewards who lost their lives working in Taj for a monthly salary that would be one time bill for their masters.

Postscript: In a fit of anger and depression, I sent a message to all the channels, 30 hours through the coverage. After all they have been constantly asking the viewers to message them for anything and everything. My message read: I send this with lots of pain. All channels, including yours, must apologise for not covering the victims of CST massacre, the real Mumbaikars and aam aadmis of India. Your obsession with five star elite is disgusting. Learn from the print media please. No channel bothered. Only Srinivasan Jain replied: you are right. We are trying to redress balance today. Well, nothing happened till the time of writing this 66 hours after the terror attack.

Gnani Sankaran is based in Chennai, and has been a journalist for 35 years.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Marredpally macaques at night

The leafy and well tree'd West Marredpally in Secunderabad is home to a biggish and noisy troop of macaques that comes by our place every once in a while. There is a big and beautiful pipal tree right in front of our house, there's a chickoo tree right there and a big neem and gulmohar just by the side....just what the doctor ordered for the macaques...
Here's a few pictures in sodium vapoured glory from a few days ago.

Crossing the road...

then coming closer...

the destination is the neem tree...

...and the sights are set above...

the young ones wait on the adjoining parapet...

...and on the adjoining pillar...

...while some of the others make the most of a midnight snack...insects and moths that throng around a sodium vapour lamp.

Simlipal Biosphere Reserve

Had the opportunity for spending a few hours on November 23 in parts of the Simlipal Biosphere and Tiger Reserve. Here are some pictures from there:

One of the many tribal villages in the forests of the reserve

Rays of the evening sun filter through the sal forests, Brundavan, Simlipal

A jewel on the forest floor

Visitors at the Barehipani waterfalls

At the Joranda Waterfalls

and the falling water itself...

we didn't see one, had not expected to either...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

मुद्दा विकासाचा आणि विस्थापनाचाही?

Sakal, Nov. 19, 2008


मुद्दा विकासाचा आणि विस्थापनाचाही?
पंकज सेखसरिया

आंध्र प्रदेशातील गोदावरी नदीवरच्या इंदिरा सागर प्रकल्पास (पोलावरम धरण प्रकल्प) सर्वोच्च न्यायालयाने नुकताच हिरवा कंदील दाखविला आहे. लाखोंना विस्थापित करून विकास घडविण्याचा मुद्दा यानिमित्ताने पुन्हा चर्चेत आला आहे.
सुमारे एक लाख एकर कृषी जमीन पाण्यात बुडविणाऱ्या आणि २९० गावे आणि वाड्यावस्त्यांतील साधारणतः दोन लाख नागरिकांना विस्थापित करणाऱ्या एका प्रकल्पाला सर्वोच्च न्यायालयाने १९ सप्टेंबरला हिरवा कंदील दिला. हा प्रकल्प आहे आंध्र प्रदेशातील गोदावरी नदीवरचा इंदिरा सागर प्रकल्प (पोलावरम धरण प्रकल्प). त्याच्या निर्मितीचा खर्च आहे अंदाजे तेरा हजार कोटी रुपये. विकासाचा रणगाडा पुन्हा एकदा इतिहासाची पुनरावृत्ती करत फिरायला लागला आहे. या प्रकल्पामुळे विस्थापित होणाऱ्या लोकसंख्येत निम्मी लोकसंख्या अनुसूचित जमातीची आहे. १७.५ टक्के लोकसंख्या अनुसूचित जातीची आणि १५ टक्के लोकसंख्या मागासवर्गीयांची आहे.

बहुतेक मोठ्या प्रकल्पांप्रमाणेच पोलावरम प्रकल्पालाही अनेक बाजू आहेत. सध्या अनुसूचित जमाती आणि वनांवर अवलंबून असणाऱ्यांबाबत जोरदार चर्चा झडत आहेत. या वादात वन्य जीवप्रेमी संघटना आणि वन खात्यानेही उडी घेतली आहे. या प्रकल्पामुळे जंगलाचा नाश होण्याचा मुद्दाही चर्चेत आहे.

वनाधिकार कायद्यावरूनही गदारोळ सुरू आहे. धोक्‍यात येत असलेले प्राणिजीवन वाचविण्यासाठी अस्तित्वात येत असलेल्या वन्य जीव प्रकल्प आणि अभयारण्यांमुळे या हक्कावर गदा येत असल्याचे एका बाजूला वाटते. धरणे, खाण प्रकल्प आणि प्रतिबंधित क्षेत्रांमुळे वनांवर अवलंबून असणाऱ्यांचे विस्थापन होते आणि त्यांना नवे आयुष्य सुरू करणे अवघड जात असल्याचा आक्षेप आदिवासी चळवळींचे अध्वर्यू आणि अन्य नेते गेले काही दशके घेत आहेत. ते सगळ्या प्रकल्पांना एकाच मापात मोजतात. वनसंवर्धन साठा मोलाचा वाटा उचलणारी स्थानिक मंडळीच आता कडवट बनली आहेत. या स्थानिकांना विश्‍वासात घेतल्याशिवाय किंवा त्यांच्या मदतीशिवाय वन्य जीवांचे संरक्षण आणि संवर्धन होणार नाही. पण पोलावरम प्रकल्पाला मिळालेली मंजुरी किंवा ओरिसातील नियामगिरी टेकड्यांच्या प्रदेशात बॉक्‍साईटच्या उत्खननास देण्यात आलेली परवानगी पाहता, स्थितीत काहीही बदल झाला नसल्याचे दिसते.

पोलावरम प्रकल्पाचे उदाहरण महत्त्वाचे आहे. त्यातही "वनजमिनी'चा प्रश्‍न जास्त महत्त्वाचा आहे. या प्रकल्पात ३७ चौरस किलोमीटर क्षेत्रफळाची राखीव जंगल जमीन पाण्यात जाणार आहे. त्याशिवाय पापीकोंडा अभयारण्यातील १७ चौरस किलोमीटर जमीनही पाण्याखाली जाईल. आंध्र प्रदेशाच्या पश्‍चिम आणि पूर्व गोदावरी आणि खम्मम जिल्ह्यांत मिळून ५९० चौरस किलोमीटर क्षेत्रात पापीकोंडा अभयारण्य पसरले आहे.

सर्वोच्च न्यायालयापुढे या प्रकरणाची सुनावणी चालू होती. न्यायालयानेच नोव्हेंबर २००६ मध्ये नेमलेल्या "सेंट्रल एम्पॉवर्ड कमिटी'ने (सीईसी) सादर केलेला अहवाल सुनावणीत महत्त्वाचा होता. या धरण प्रकल्पाला अंतिम मंजुरी देण्यापूर्वी पाण्याखाली जाणाऱ्या जमिनीच्या मोबदल्यात पापीकोंडा अभयारण्यासाठी पाचशे चौरस किलोमीटर जंगल समाविष्ट करावे आणि हे अभयारण्य राष्ट्रीय अभयारण्य म्हणून जाहीर करावे, अशी महत्त्वाची शिफारस "सीईसी'ने केली होती. त्यामुळे पापीकोंडाचे क्षेत्रफळ सुमारे एक हजार चौरस किलोमीटर होऊन ते देशातील एक मोठे अभयारण्य ठरेल, असे समितीने म्हटले होते. या परिसरात किमान वस्ती असावी अशीही अपेक्षा होती. भारताच्या वन्य जीवसंरक्षण कायद्यानुसार, राष्ट्रीय अभयारण्यात कोणालाही राहता येत नाही आणि वनोपजांवर उपजीविका करणाऱ्यांचे सर्व हक्क नष्ट होतात. संख्येपेक्षा तत्त्वाला महत्त्व देण्याचा हा प्रकार आहे. विस्थापन ही काही चांगली बाब नसते. या प्रकल्पामुळे बाधित होणाऱ्या सुमारे दोन लाख नागरिकांना त्याचा आता अनुभव येईल. आधी धरणामुळे आणि नंतर अभयारण्याचे क्षेत्रफळ वाढविण्यामुळे त्यांना विस्थापित व्हावे लागणार आहे. न्यायालयाच्या निकालामुळे "सीईसी'च्या अहवालावर शिक्कामोर्तब होऊन धरण बांधण्याचा मार्ग मोकळा झाला आहे. त्याचबरोबर पापीकोंडा राष्ट्रीय अभयारण्य अस्तित्वात येणार असल्यामुळे वन्य जीव संवर्धनाच्या नावाखाली आदिवासी जमाती विस्थापित होणार आहेत.

पोलावरम हा फक्त अपवाद नाही. असे अनेक प्रकल्प प्रस्तावित आहेत. त्यातले काही पुढे रेटले जात आहेत आणि काही रेटले जातील. धरणांसाठी जंगलांनी समृद्ध असलेला ईशान्य भारत आणि खाणींसाठी मध्य व पूर्व भारतात अनेक प्रकल्प रांगेत आहेत.

(लेखक पर्यावरण चळवळीतील कार्यकर्ते आहेत.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Protected Area Update December 2008 - News on Wildlife

Dear Friends,
Pasted below is the list of contents and editorial from the new issue of the Protected Area Update (Vol. XIV, No. 6, December 2008). If you would like to receive specific stories or the entire newsletter as an attachment please do write to me at psekhsaria@gmail.com
Please also forward to individuals and other egroups that might be interested in the issues and/or would like to receive the stories in the Update.

Pankaj Sekhsaria
Editor, PA Update, C/o Kalpavriksh

News and Information from protected areas in India and South Asia
Vol. XIV No. 6
December 2008 (No.76)

-A Gulf in trouble?


SEZs threaten wildlife

Community Biosphere Reserve in Upper Siang District

Disease kills rhino calf in Pobitara, 2nd one ailing
Chakrashila staff receive training at Corbett
Workshop on wildlife management
Workshop on hoolock gibbon translocation
Call to include Kaziranga portion in NH-37
Male rhino gores female to death at Manas
Manas poachers join green NGO

Feral dogs hunt blackbucks at Velavadar
66% tourists to Gujarat visit Gir
Hotels functioning illegally around Gir
New management zone for PAs in North Gujarat
FD proposes incentive scheme for informers

Wildlife crime prevention workshop held in Leh

FD ‘adopts’ two villages near Dalma WLS
Spotted deer released into Hazaribagh NP

Initiative to control traffic in Bandipur NP
Tribal people block entry to Nagarhole NP
Night traffic banned on road inside Nagarhole NP
Wildlife research institute coming up in Kodagu

Tiger population rising in PTR; count to be undertaken across state

Conflict between panchayats over management of Kadalundi Community Reserve

Oussudu Lake declared first sanctuary in Puducherry

Garo Students Union Opposes Coal Mining in Balpakram NP, South Garo Hills

Simlipal opens for tourists from November
Tourism facilities for Chandaka WLS
Anti-poaching measures at Chilika
Villagers of Karlapat WLS start exercising rights under Forest Rights Act

Large scale mortality of aquatic life in the Gulf of Mannar Marine NP

Campaign to declare Gulf of Mannar a World Heritage Site

Metal trap-detectors for Corbett and Rajaji

Trains through Dudhwa may stop

Top officials transferred after tiger death in Sunderbans TR
Czech national arrested for collecting beetles from Singalila NP flees country

Parliamentary committee for scrapping of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill
Responses to the draft regulatory framework for wetland conservation
13 tigers poached in last two years
Conference of Southern Forest Ministers
49 Indian mammal species face extinction threat; rhino out of IUCN red list

NTCA signs pact with TRAFFIC India
Edberg award for environmental work to Shekar Dattatri
Workshop on wildlife conservation laws for Northeast judiciary


World’s largest population of endangered dolphins found in Bangladesh

Bangladesh acts to protect deer in Sundarbans

New President for the IUCN
MoU for protection of migratory birds of prey found in Europe, Africa and Asia
INTERPOL and CITES launch new manual for wildlife crimes investigators

Maharashtra Rajya Pakshimitra Sammelan 2008

Small Cat Action Fund
Doctoral research fellowships in tiger conservation
Graduate Research Assistantship at Michigan State University




The last few months have seen some drastic ecological changes in the waters of the Gulf of Mannar along the country’s eastern coast. An unprecedented algal bloom is reported to have caused the mortality of thousands of marine animals here. While there certainly is a set of inter-related factors that must have caused the bloom, it is important that scientists have pointed out to the large scale and indiscriminate dumping of municipal and domestic sewage as one of key triggers.

Just a few months ago there were other reports of the corals here getting diseased on account of deteriorating water quality associated with increased pollution and sea surface temperatures (PA Update Vol. XIV, No. 3). Illegal blasting and collection of coral for use as limestone continue to pose a serious threat to coral reef resources in the region and it was not very long ago that the exotic algae Kappaphycus alvarezzi that is being cultivated here as part of a commercial enterprise was seen to have invaded significant parts of the protected area (PA Update Vol. XIV, No. 4). This species is reported to have become invasive (displacing local varieties of algae) and was also smothering corals leading to major adverse impacts on the reefs in the Caribbean, where it was introduced with similar intentions of income generation. There are fears that a similar situation will be seen soon in the Gulf of Mannar too.

It would seem that Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve which is the biggest and one of the oldest in the country has no respite from human created disasters and one is not even talking about the construction of the Sethu Samudran Shipping Canal that will undoubtedly cause huge irreparable damage to this unique and rich ecosystem. While there are some studies on the negative impacts of human activities such as sewage disposal, exotic species introduction and coral mining, it would also be very important to initiate a long term process to monitor the economic and ecological impacts of these developments.

What is important is that the developments in the Gulf here are only indicative of what is happening all along India’s rich and diverse coastal systems. We have a huge coastline that is ecologically very rich and one that supports thousands of human communities. In more ways than one this system has always received a step-motherly treatment. Large scale pollution, construction of major projects like ports, industrial hubs and power plants and damming of rivers that eventually force a change in the fine coastal balance continue even today, unmindful of the damage that is being caused.

The present developments here are perhaps a good indicator of just that. The faster we take notice of this the better it will be because in abusing or even just neglecting the coastal systems today we forget that a much higher price will have to be paid tomorrow.


Vol. XIV, No. 6, December 2008 (No. 76)
Editorial Assistance: WRUTUJA PARDESHI
Produced by: KALPAVRIKSH
Ideas, comments, news and information may please be sent to the editorial address:
KALPAVRIKSH, Apartment 5, Shri Dutta Krupa, 908 Deccan Gymkhana, Pune 411004, Maharashtra, India. Tel/Fax: 020 – 25654239.
Email: psekhsaria@gmail.com
Website: www.kalpavriksh.org
Production of PA Update 76 has been supported by THE FOUNDATION FOR ECOLOGICAL SECURITY (FES), Anand.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Bail us out: consume

Bail us out: consume

—Sunita Narain

Earlier this year, I called the Union budget myopic (see Down To Earth, March 31, 2008). Let me reiterate why. The Union budget did not take into account the fact the world was beginning to face new challenges, all of which were devastating, and related. One, the rising cost of our food—you will recall subsequently prices did go up and food riots took place in many parts of the world. Two, the problem of ‘peak’ oil prices—which, again by mid-year, touched an astounding us $140 per barrel, and despite a present downturn remain quite volatile. Three, the devastating impacts of climate change, visibly on crop productivity because of water scarcity or untimely rains or the growing frequency of natural disasters. Four, a possible, us-led global recession.

Well, that recession has, since then, blown up in our faces as companies, banks collapse and governments rush with billions of dollars to their rescue. And myopia seems a global malaise. What should astound us is not the crisis, nor its scale or its devastation, but the response of our financial and political managers. Remember, these are people who have all studied alike; who all speak the same words and do the same done things. All of them believe they know their world and can come up with answers quicker than you can say ‘meltdown’. So, even as they are completely lost in this world today, their arrogance persists. First, they said, “Don’t worry, it won’t touch us”. Now, they are saying, “Don’t worry, it will pass”.

The fact is they don’t have a clue of what is happening. They also refuse to accept this crisis is actually inter-related crises linked to the way we have managed growth till date. The fact is we have been taught, and have practised what has been preached, we can consume our way to growth and consume our way through and out of any slow-down period. “Don’t worry, just consume” is the mantra. If we cannot ‘afford’ to consume, then, too, we should not worry. The financial systems will ensure we get cheap loans to buy homes, cars, washing machines, or anything else we may not need but desire. After all, it is only if we consume that growth indicators will look rosy again, and the world will remain happy.

The problem with this model is that we do little to ensure we can bring the cost of the product down so that it is affordable. In other words, we do not plan, design, manufacture and sell products and services that meet the purchasing abilities of people. We don’t demand technology to work for affordability. We also don’t share wealth so that more can afford this growth—afford the house or the car—without the loans that will make the banks boom and then go bust.

The sub-prime crisis that hit the us, is precisely because of the fact that banks loaned quickly, cheaply to people who could not afford the housing. Worse, the market gained, if the house was more expensive—conversely, less affordable.

The other way to growth is to subsidize the cost of producing the products we should consume. Take the ‘Nano’ example in India, where every car manufacturer is in a scramble to get public largesse—from land at throwaway rates, interest free loans to free or nearly free water and power. This is all to reduce their cost of manufacture, to place the car we cannot buy within our reach. It is another matter that in this economics, the cost of our consumption has been subsidized. It is a story uncannily similar to how food in the rich world is grown—farmers (most agri-businesses) are loaded with subsidy dollars to grow cheap food so that its consumption (and over-consumption) can grow, even as obesity takes the form of the world’s most deadly disease. It is also a fact it is the same consumption-led economic growth that has brought the world to the climate change precipice. The point still is: are we beginning to make these connections?

Clearly, no. In fact, there is only one way to crawl out of the current hole–do more of what we have done till date. The us $700 billion bail-out package was explained very succinctly by us president George Bush in the interest of the ‘poor’ worker. “The banks needed to loan, as otherwise ordinary Americans would not have money to buy the car and this would mean that the factory workers in Detroit would lose their job.” Simple logic for simple economics: buy and buy to make the economy go around.

In this way, the vicious circle will go, on and on. We will consume more, because it is the only way we know to economic growth. Even if it costs us a bank or the Earth.

We will not talk about this. To do so would mean we would have to change our fundamental understanding of what constitutes growth; to what leads to happiness and what results in employment and well being for all. It would mean changes in how we measure economic growth—junking or going beyond the gross domestic product (gdp) indicator to one that is much more comprehensive in assessment of these needs.

As of now, we will not change. The world is still in the hands of the same men who put us in the mess in the first place. It is their limited imagination and enjoined ideology that has got us here. It is their lack of imagination that first pushes airlines to believe they can be as cheap as railways. Then pushes for public largesse to fund what we can’t afford. So don’t expect any change. This financial crisis may go away. But the storm is still to come.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Long Glide Home - BHARATPUR

The Long Glide Home

Bharatpur had no water, no fish — no birds. Yet, ingenuity and effort revived the wetland, writes PRERNA SINGH BINDRA

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 45, Dated Nov 15, 2008

JULY 2008: Hope had almost died, much like the sanctuary at Bharatpur, starved of water and life for nearly five years. As the monsoon approached, many a hopeful eye looked to the sky. This time, the gods did not disappoint and rain drenched a parched earth.

The first to test the waters were Openbills, arriving in tentative numbers. Soon, the Kadam trees were colonised by thousands of these storks. Their arrival signalled others to follow, and Keoladeo Ghana National Park, better known as Bharatpur, was back in business. Darters, egrets, herons, ibis’, and cormorants set up house. Jacanas were busy making nests atop thick floating vegetation, and the Sarus Crane did what it does best — dancing and wooing its mate.

The migrants — ducks, teals, pochards, gadwalls, geese, pintails — have started making cautious forays. And it is expected that they will land in huge numbers at their winter sanctuary, denied to them over the years.

The first sign of unhappy days ahead came in the early winter of 2002, when Keoladeo’s star visitor, the Siberian Crane, having dwindled to a measly three over the years, failed to show up. Though you couldn’t lay the blame on Bharatpur’s door — the cranes travel through hostile skies — many superstitious ornithologists took it as a grim sign. True enough, drought plagued the region from 2004 onwards. Bharatpur shrivelled up. Worse, the waters of the Ajan dam, fed by the Gambhir and Banganga rivers — the wetland’s lifeline — was denied to the sanctuary, thanks to agitating farmers and water politics. Over the past four years, rainfall had been low, and farmers demanded water for their fields. Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje stated in 2005 that “people, not parks, were her priority”. Not understanding that denying the wetlands would mean groundwater for nearby farmers wouldn’t be replenished, the powers-that-be succumbed to political pressure and diverted water meant for the swamps to farmlands. The result? Devastation.

The wetland, accorded the status of a Ramsar Site, became arid. Birds gave the dry, desolate park a miss. The Siberian Cranes were already history; the flourishing stork colonies and heronries now ceased to exist. From the 400-odd species the park boasted, the numbers crashed to 48 last year, and the park that saw hundred of thousands of birds in a normal season now barely held 4,000. Other species suffered, too. The endangered Fishing Cat dwindled to negligible numbers, otters once seen frolicking here vanished, and turtles were seen desperately thrashing in tiny, putrid pools of water. The once fecund Bharatpur had become a graveyard. “There was no breeding at all, how could there be in such conditions? No water, no grasses, no fish. Lacking prey, the raptors took wing too,” says Bholu Abrar Khan, a park veteran. The economy centred on the park was devastated. Says Rattan Singh, a rickshawpuller who takes tourists around the park, “There were very few tourists, those who came, returned unhappy”. Hotels ran empty.

The initial reaction was kneejerk. Spluttering tubewells were installed but feral cattle, which had taken over the park, lapped up the water they pumped. The state government’s more lavish but equally doomed plan — to draw water through a pipeline from the Chambal river, at a cost of over Rs 100 crore — was rubbished by experts. “Bharatpur needs live water that gives birth to the grasses, fish, etc that birds feed on. Water that comes all the way from Chambal will be inert, and of little use,” explains Dr Parikshit Gautam, Director, Wetlands Programme, World Wide Fund for Nature, India.

The problem of Prosopis juliflora, an exotic species that grows rapidly and hampers the growth of other species, was equally grave. In just three years, from 2002 to 2005, its spread almost doubled, obstructing the regeneration of native vegetation, and trees like Salvadora persica and Balanites aegyptiaca — on which fruit-eating birds like Rosy Pastors depend.

“So bad was the situation that there were fears the wetland would lose its World Heritage Status. Which it almost did”, says Bikram Grewal, author of The Bharatpur Inheritance. “We couldn't allow that to happen,” says R N Mehrotra, Chief Wildlife Warden of Rajasthan. So began the battle to regain the park. The first step was to get rid of the prosopis: a monumental task with no precedent. The forest department strategised an innovative plan that benefited local villagers, and the WWF pitched in financially. Through eco-development committees formed in villages near the park, families were allotted plots of land from which they would clear the weed. In exchange, they were given wood. About eight kilometres of the park were cleared, and nearly 1 lakh quintals of wood extracted from it. Many locals used this bounty to repay old debts. Tukiram from Jatoli village not only cleared his debts, he also built a house.

The water problem was even more complex. Fortunately, this year, the rain gods obliged. But this is not enough. To survive, Bharatpur needs about 550 mcf of water, most of it supplied by the Ajan bund. Though a prickly issue, discreet politics, plus coordination with the district administration, saw about 450 mcf being released in three phases from Ajan.

Ajan, however, can no longer be depended on, given the volatile politics attached to it. One solution was to divert the Chiksana canal, which drained Ajan’s flood water, and passed through the park’s southern tip. This was diverted to the E block — the point once visited by the Sibes. It filled the gap, supplying about 80 mcf. “Also on the anvil is a project to get water from the Govardhan canal, a flood drain with no claimants to its water. This will mean drawing a pipe of about 17 kms to the park. Together, these canals can meet Bharatpur’s needs in times of stress”, explains Dr Gautam. .

“The state has already sanctioned Rs 12.46 crore for this. The cost is about 65 crore, and the Planning Commission has agreed to grant the rest. We have already started work on it and hope the canal will be ready by the next monsoon. Bharatpur need never go thirsty again,” says Mehrotra.

Bharatpur is still a far cry from its former glory, but well on its way to recovery. With the prosopis scourge removed, and the gift of water, Bharatpur is alive with the cries of a thousand birds. Bholu points out the nest of a Painted Stork: the mother has just brought back fish and the four chicks are raising hell, stabbing at her beak for the food. “Four chicks, and they have all survived — it means there’s enough food in the park...” And enough hope for the future!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pedestrians, Pune's second class citizens

Pedestrians, Pune's second class citizens

By Pankaj Sekhsaria

DNA, Pune Edition,
Wednesday, October 22, 2008

There is a new hierarchy that has slowly but surely entrenched itself in India’s urban reality. It is not really articulated in that light, but it is an experience that any resident of our cities could not have missed. Get on to the roads of your city as a pedestrian or a cyclist and you know instantly that you are a 2nd class citizen. It’s not difficult to understand - while the annual growth rate of human population across 23 of our major cities for the period 1991-2001 was a little more than three, the annual growth rate of vehicles for the same period was almost 10 and this has only accelerated in the recent years. The consequences are obvious - zooming cars and two wheelers, blaring horns, billowing smoke, narrower footpaths, fewer trees – it is increasingly a punishment to even get out onto to city roads if you don’t have a personalized mode of motor transport.
In line with the logic that growth in vehicle population and density is non-negotiable and questioning it amounts to sacrilege, the single biggest activity in our cities in recent times has been road and flyover construction and road widening. Trees, footpaths, old shops, houses – nothing matters. Conservative estimates suggest, for instance, that at least 50,000 trees, many for accommodating the increasing traffic, have been chopped down in Pune in the last five years alone. Pedestrian and cyclists occupy minimum road space and cause no pollution at all, but that is of no consequence at all. By cutting trees and reducing (even eliminating) footpaths the situation is only being made more hostile for them.
An excellent example of this is the four laning and huge expansion of road width on the highway between Nigdi and Dapodi along with the most recent construction of grade separators. It has been suggested that a vehicle can now cover this distance in a little over eight minutes. While motorists are delighted for obvious reasons, others, particularly those who walk or use cycles have been completely forgotten. There are a number of sections in this stretch where one has to take a detour of at least a couple of kilometers to just cross over to the other side. Twenty minutes of driving time saved for a motorist has directly translated to at least twice the duration of transport time for a pedestrian. Children and old people will, in fact, be put to the greatest hardships.
The recently published nation-wide study on ‘Traffic and Transportation Policies and Strategies in Urban Areas in India’ that was commissioned by the Union Ministry for Urban Development provides evidence of precisely this. Thousands of people are killed annually in our metros in road accidents and not surprisingly a substantial number of those killed are indeed pedestrians. “And for pedestrians,” the report notes, “our city roads have simply forgotten they exist. The percentage of roads with pedestrian footpaths runs to hardly 30% in most cities.”
It has to be remembered that every citizen is a pedestrian at some point in his or her use of the roads of a city. Unless priorities in urban planning, in the media and in our thinking are not refocused, this problem is only set to increase. Merely adding and widening roads is not going to help. What is needed is a more fundamental effort at improving public transport, reducing private vehicles and putting the welfare and safety of the pedestrian and cyclist at the very centre of all that we do.
More pedestrians, otherwise, will continue to die and the most frightening part is that it could be anyone of us, any point of time.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ocean of garbage


September 20 was Coastal Clean-up Day. But, is one day enough to clean up our coastlines?

Over 80 per cent of plastic that is found in the seas has been washed out from land. a visit to the coast will give you an idea of the scale of the crisis.

Photo : Pankaj Sekhsaria.

Innocent victim : A Hawksbill Turtle entangled in a plastic net.

Here are some unbelievable facts of what garbage, mainly plastic waste, is doing to our oceans and the birds and animals that live in them.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme at least one million sea birds and about 100,000 marine mammals such as dolphins, whales and seals are killed by plastic every year.

Startling facts

A study conducted in the Netherlands found that 95 per cent of sea birds in the North Sea had plastic inside their stomachs; one bird in Belgium had 1600 pieces of plastic in its stomach. Nearly 600,000 tons of discarded plastic is believed to have settled at the bottom of the North sea.

There is so much plastic waste that is floating on our seas that researchers, scientists and regular ocean travellers refer to these as continents of plastic; a single plastic continent could weigh over three million tons.

One only needs to do a simple ‘garbage in oceans’ search on the Internet to actually find out the scale of the problem that we have created. Tens of thousands of pages of shocking information and pictures about the state of the oceans that cover 70 per cent of this planet. It is important also to bear in mind that this is a problem that is essentially created by humans. Over 80 per cent of the plastic that is found in the seas has been washed out from land – from our landfills, from our garbage cans – the plastic that we use and carelessly throw away day after day.

All of us may not have the opportunity to see what is happening in the far away oceans, a visit to any of our coast lines that is piled up with waste of all kinds gives us a good idea of the scale of this crisis.

Coastal Clean up day was on September 20, and was one effort at dealing with the problem when a large number of organisations and volunteers all over the world came together to clean up the coasts. The magnitude is such, that efforts like this can only make a small dent. A much better and long term solution, experts point out, is to adopt the 3R principle – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. That might be the only way out, because how much ever we clean up, the waste is not going away if we continue to generate it at the pace and quantities that we are presently doing.