A government advertisement showed Chief Minister M.K. Stalin carrying a ‘manjappai’, the go-to yellow cloth bag of choice for Tamils before modernity seeped into their lives and along came the plastic bags. “There is nothing to be ashamed about in carrying a manjappai,” he said, inaugurating the campaign to promote cloth bags.
It symbolised the down-to-earth approach the DMK government has taken in the sectors of environment and forests, with climate change added as a forethought, in its first year in office. IAS Officer Supriya Sahu was hand-picked by Mr. Stalin, like many of his top officials, as the Secretary of Environment and Forests and given free reign to ensure that fragile ecosystems in Tamil Nadu are not damaged further.
It began with the revamping of the Forest Department on multiple levels, especially at the top, much to the relief of activists. “For the first time in two decades, I am planning to visit Panagal Maligai (the headquarters of the Forest Department) as honest and straightforward officers have been posted,” said a renowned wildlife filmmaker. Action was not far behind, and conflicts on the field showcased the scientific temper and real intent of the new Government.
A year of firsts
Rivaldo, a wild elephant, was put in a kraal unnecessarily. After detailed planning and scientific assessment, the wild elephant was let back into the forest. It was the first time the State’s Forest Department had taken up rewilding an elephant successfully. While there were doubters, the foresters monitored Rivaldo constantly to ensure that the rewilding was complete, and it did not fall into the drudgery of captivity.
Soon after, the tiger T-23 surfaced in the Mudumalai forests. After it killed four persons and ate parts of one of its victims, there were demands for its killing. However, the Forest Department, led personally by Shekhar Kumar Niraj, Chief Wildlife Warden, toiled in the deciduous jungles for 21 days to successfully tranquillise and capture the tiger alive. They relocated the animal to the Mysore Zoo to ensure its survival. Capturing a problematic tiger alive in the Nilgiris landscape was yet another first for the Forest Department.
The Government also decided that India’s first Dugong Conservation Reserve will be built in Tamil Nadu. The dugong, a marine animal, is listed as vulnerable in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.
And by December, the Chief Wildlife Warden withdrew “forever” an order by his predecessor to alter the boundaries of the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary, the country’s oldest bird sanctuary, where community conservation has been in vogue for a couple of centuries. Soon after, Kazhuveli was declared the State’s 16th bird sanctuary to ensure the habitats of the migratory birds along the East Coast are well preserved.
On the environmental pollution front, a move that has come as a significant relief for industrial units has been doing away with a rule requiring industries to approach the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to renew the consent to operate every year. Hereafter, clearance will be issued in one go and will have longer validity. Of course, the industries must still strictly adhere to pollution control regulations.
In September, the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption conducted raids on the properties of TNPCB chairman A.V. Venkatachalam, who ended his life in December.
According to sources, the Chief Minister himself has told the top brass that environment was more important than hazardous development. Though a step in the right direction, the eco-friendly initiatives must be effectively sustained over a long term to make any substantial impact.