Ecological lessons

Critiquing the government’s role in conservation

June 17, 2017 07:25 pm | Updated 07:25 pm IST

The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis
Prerna Singh Bindra
Penguin Random House

The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis Prerna Singh Bindra Penguin Random House ₹599

While reading Prerna Bindra’s journey into the forests and some of the institutions that govern them, I felt I was on a train rattling across India seeing the beauty but also the ugliness. The author is inspired by the incredible beauty of wildlife but defeated by her encounters with the government. As a reader I am left feeling confused. The journey is disjointed and the train is traversing on too many tracks. Sadly, this is the reality of wildlife governance in India.

The first part of the book is about the role of the government and the clearance of projects by various committees of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and is followed by a chapter on the National Board of Wildlife. Bindra highlights the complexity and the ridiculous systems that govern our wilderness. But she has not gone into details about the state governments’ role.

However, she has probed the role of the forest officer in the horrors that our wilderness is subjected to. Politicians create ugly policy only on the advice and bidding of the bureaucrat.

There is an interesting 20-page chapter on the destructive role of roads in wildlife habitats but the author should have provided maps of how one may create non-invasive roads. The most controversial highways have fractured natural habitats because of ignorant bureaucrats.

The section on the Panna tiger reserve and its possible submergence because of river linking is chilling. Panna’s case is unique: it lost all its tigers because of mismanagement. The author praises officers who re-populated Panna with tigers but she forgets to fault their predecessors who were responsible for it earlier.

The author has devoted 40 pages to tigers and their problems and her best bits are her own descriptions of her wild encounters. Bindra also has interesting sections on elephants, crocodiles, the Great Indian Bustards and Olive Ridley turtles. There is also a long and excellent reference section. However, I don’t agree with the author that the declaration of protected areas is the greatest decision a state can take. At least 500 declared protected areas in India are in such a bad state that I call them paper reserves. The issue has to be how we govern these reserves and not how many areas we declare as reserves.

The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis ; Prerna Singh Bindra, Penguin Random House, ₹599.

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