DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Solace from a tiger in the backyard


A tiger has been roaming around in the jungles near Kerwa and Kaliyasot dams about 25 to 30 kilometres away from the central Indian city of Bhopal. The jungles are lush and provide excellent habitat. These are part of the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary that is cradled in a portion of the Vindhya Ranges passing through the districts of Sehore and Raisen adjoining Bhopal. The sanctuary was prevented from being designated as another tiger reserve of the province of Madhya Pradesh by the political executive as the tribal people inhabiting the jungles feared their dislocation as a consequence.

During the past few months reports that would come in spoke of the big cat, apart from terrorising the villagers who live close to these dams, was making meals of their cattle. Scores of cattle were reported to have been killed by it but no harm seems to have ever come to any human. The villagers, perhaps promptly compensated by the government for their losses, have so far been patient and have resisted taking recourse to brutal killing of the beast – like the tiger which was mercilessly showered with lathi blows (the lathi is an Indian stick used in traditional martial arts) and was beaten to death near Rajnandgaon last month where it happened to have strayed in from a sanctuary near Nagpur.

This morning a hugely reassuring news-item appeared in a vernacular daily – something that has not been heard for many years. Falsifying the traditional antipathy of humans for the tiger, the farmers in the villages near the two dams are happy with the presence of the one that has been making frequent forays into what is literally their backyard. Its presence seems to have made the pests disappear, thus saving their crops. In normal years when the tiger wouldn’t be around blue bulls and wild boar would raid their farms and not only eat up their crops but also destroy the rest. With a prowling tiger around, these pests have made a clean disappearing act, enabling the farmers to reap a good harvest. They are also planning to raise a second crop.

To prevent the tiger to find access into this area which it seems to be fond of, the Forest Department has, of late, been planning to erect a fence. That, perhaps, would be working at cross-purposes with the farmers, now that they seem to have become tiger-friendly, having found its presence economically beneficial. Erecting a fence, in any case, was not such a good idea as that would prevent the tiger free movement in its own domain, the forests near the two dams being part of the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary. There could be several reasons for the tiger to make repeated appearances in an inhabited area. A degrading/shrinking habitat and increase in tiger numbers and/or lack of an adequate prey-base are the ones that immediately suggest themselves. Wildlife experts in the department would do well to investigate the phenomenon.

The repeated tiger-sightings in these jungles, however, speak so very well of the Forest Department’s efforts to maintain them making them congenial for the tiger and, surely, for other fauna as well as flora. They also indicate how Bhopal was once surrounded by lush green forests which the town has been progressively nibbling away at. The government rather thoughtlessly gave away parts of these forests for educational institutions run mostly by media groups, presumably, for a consideration. Even a couple of years back the developers and builders were trying to grab parts of these forests under the Bhopal Development Plan 2021 in connivance with the government agencies concerned. It was only the massive resistance mounted by the civil society groups that forced it to give up the entire plan. That these forests are essential for the town’s salubriousness does not seem to have been adequately appreciated. The greenery in the town has been largely lost with ongoing constructions and road-building so much so that it is now witness to extreme heat in summers. For the sake of the comfort of the citizens of this town it would seem to be incumbent for the Forest Department to keep protecting and nurturing these forests regardless of what it takes.

Photo: The reservoir of Kerwa Dam by Bandana Bagchi

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