Saturday, November 22, 2014

Whose Forest Is It?

Sometimes having ability to understand the responsibility you carry can be your worst curse…Chanakya.

It’s November & yet the winter hasn’t really started in central India, it’s cloudy & windy, even a bit dull & gloomy a times! But sals of kanha & teaks of tadoba will never make you feel that when you are with them! Suddenly sun breaks through the clouds & when you are waiting on a red dusty road you spot a tigress walking straight towards your gipsy & all you can hear is clicking of the camera shutter & your own heart beats, for a while time has stopped & within few minutes she crosses your gipsy & walk past you & lost in the vastness of jungle around, leaving behind life time memories! Yes, the season of jungle has started & I happy to be part of it! Friends, forest is full of such moments & all you have to do is go there & live them at fullest! And yes one more thing, to return with a promise that I owe this forest something, though it won’t ever ask for yet it’s my duty to take my share in keeping it in its best form for all others too!

But then visiting forests is always a new experience for me as it gives me a chance to break free from my city life routine. Many will wonder to read the quote which I am using for the topic of forest as instead starting with a quote related to the nature how I choose something so philosophical, that too from the person which is in my top three idols i.e. The Chanakya! But then nature is not just all about fun & enjoyment, especially when you are director of a national park that too of a park which enjoys position of one of top tiger sighting destinations in the world! I am referring to Kanha Tiger Project & Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve & their respective directors, with whom I was lucky to spend some real good time! What I like about visiting forests is not just sighting of  tigers, I have enough of them though each time it’s a new thrill yet visiting forests gives me an opportunity to meet the people who resides in & around the forests & who are equal part of the forest just the way the trees & animals of that forests are! And by meeting them every time you get a new dimension to look at the forest & then I like the forests more!

That way when we call a piece of land as forest the along with various flora & fauna we need to consider all the villagers residing inside & outside of forest, the tribes which are just as much part of the forest, the numbers of agencies like guides to gipsy drivers to dhabawalas to staff of hotels & resorts around the park, the tourists visiting the forests, forest labors & the forest staff; wow the list is long & big! But all these people are links of the chain named forest. And like tiger is at apex of any animal chain; one person is at apex of this human links of the chain & he is the Director of the park! Most of the tourists rarely knew about the organizational functioning of the forest department though they may have visited several times the forest. That’s sad part of it as all we are interested in the tiger when we go to forest & are least bothered about knowing anything other than its sighting! Though for all the people I mentioned above except tourists (few of the regulars do know), the director is like king & the forest i.e. park is his kingdom. One has to see the scene when the director’s vehicle arrives at the gate of the park & the aura he carries; all the guides to guards, everyone related to forest is at attention & you can see from their face expression as well the body language, its same like the chitals & languor reacting in the presence of a tiger. And do forgive me it’s not fear I am referring but the respect the post carries in the eyes of all these people who works for the forest in their respective roles. Many will be happy to have that post as all they can see is  “ ji hujur” types order following & salutes from everyone coming in his way & not to forget a free license to move in the wild life heavens like kanha & tadoba for which people are ready to spend millions of rupees! And then the directors stay arrangements inside the forest, the palatial rest house with the best view forest can offer & a fleet of orderlies i.e. servants commonly we can call them, at his service to catch any demand which is an order! Well, do mind no respect comes at free! Behind all this curtain of luxury & position lies the chair full of thrones. Let’s have a look what a tiger park director is supposed to do rather what he is responsible for? 

Forest as we shared above is made of numbers of elements & it includes every single animal right from tiger to a tiny bird like bee-eater. Then there are thousands of types of tress, creepers & grasses too along with hundreds of water bodies which are habitats of many species like water birds & fish. Then there are all the human elements which I have listed above & job of the director is to see every single segment of this chain is happy & at peace at his position as then only the chain is going to be intact! Just imagine the task as it’s nice to visit a forest by sitting in gipsy & click beauty around but then you need not have to bother about the responsibility of their well being as there is a man posted as director of the park whose shoulders are supposed to carry that responsibility.

One will always criticize as what’s the big deal, doesn’t he has so many men as well machinery at his assistance for the job? Well he has, but a forest is a natural habitat created by the gods & nothing works there as per your wish but by natures wish! And there anything can go wrong for e.g. a tiger can wander from the forest as he don’t know park boundaries & move in the village nearby & can kill any villager or get killed by the villagers. Or a heard of chitals i.e. dears can eat up the entire crop of a farmer whose only fault is his farm is adjoining to the forest & the obviously he is not going to be friend of the forests as well the animals. Then there can be a collared tigress whose collar has become tight & needs to be replaced & for that you need to locate that tigress in the vastness of the forest before she gets hurt by her collar. At the same the director has to care for survival of the cubs of a tigress & see that they remain safe while their mother goes hunting around. There are hundreds of vehicles moving inside the park & they can collide with any animal in the forest causing a serious mishap & as a director he is supposed to monitor all these vehicles at proper & safe speed. The director has to ensure there are not any forest fires which are nightmare for any wild life lover & can cause huge damage to the flora & fauna. Again the critics will say why he has to bother it, the forests are here since ages & have they not survived on their own till now, along with the animals? Again answer is yes but in past the human interference rather encroachment is proper word wasn’t so much on the forests! The biggest task in front of the park director is the man animal conflict & reason is the question, who owns the forest? Means, who has first right of the land on which forests are standing peacefully for ages, is it human or animals?  

The land is limited & population of human is ever increasing & so are our needs; obviously we need more land for our farms, factories, recreational activities & what not! So where we go for fulfilling our needs & greed; we go to the lands on which forest were standing for years without any threat of the worst animal named a human! ; as if the young tiger cubs were there, then the essential survival things like prey base as well water was easily available to the tigress so she need not have to roam far away from her cubs leaving them vulnerable from dangers like other male tiger or jackal etc. If there were forest fires then there was enough land for new forests to grow. As there was no farming immediately near to the forest no threat of any tiger or dear herds drifting in human settlement was there. The humans then were not killing the tigers for his skin of nails so there was no threat of poaching. In short the biggest task of the director of any park today is to reduce this encroachment on the forest & its occupants by humans. Still in kanha as well tadoba & many other such forests there are some villages’ right within or adjoining the park where this man animal conflict is a hanging sword &the respective directors are trying their best to sort this out.
Problems in this process are immense as the villagers thinks they have their right on the land in forest & not easily ready to move to new locations offered by the Govt. The spread & the job of guarding the hundreds of square kilometers of forests are very tough & manpower isn’t often enough. On top of it the infrastructure is poor to the staffers & this leads to frustration of many forest guards & to boost their moral is again a big job for the director. As I said it’s easy to visit the forests for a week with every luxury at your service & then like the forest but think yourself in the position of a lone forest guard residing deep within the forest in a chowki, cutoff from outer world, even from his family & facing extreme dark nights, harsh heat of sun or downpour of rain. At the same time to face the danger of attack by animals around & of poachers too! There have been many incidences of forest guards been injured, a time even got killed by attack from animals like sloth bear or shot dead by poachers. And this is not the routine for just a week but it’s an endless situation, months after months; even year after year & now try liking the forests! I am sure most people even wont like forest by just imagining this & then the director is supposed to make these people work for the conservation of forest.

What is the solution for this then? Unfortunately there is no immediate solution but all we can think is first decide whose forest it is & then work out a strategy to give the right to the rightful entity. At present by me forest belongs to the trees, the tigers , the dears & thousands of species who resides there & all we can do is try to keep our interference as less as we can from their world. This doesn’t mean we don’t enter in to forest as gone are the days to let the forest survive on their own, if there is no guarding of the forests trust me in one year the entire forests will get wiped out along with the animals, such is the greed of human beings. So each of us should do the role of park director i.e. develop the attitude like him. Even when we are visiting the forests as a tourists see that we don’t become nuisance to the forest or its systems & enjoy the beauty of nature by following its rules. Don’t rush for just clicking the sight of the tiger but enjoy & feel his presence around by pug marks & alarm calls, even if you don’t see him actually. See every minute detail in the nature & learn to preserve it. Remember forest is to felt by all senses & not by just sight of animals. Right from the fragrance of crushed grass to calls of several birds around forest is a living object in itself, so feel that aliveness around when you are in forest. Think of the way we can assist the forest as well its keepers i.e. people like forest guards or the villagers around or the guides. Any help to them will boost their moral for keeping the forest in better shape & by doing this you are reducing some burden from the shoulders of the director who is like guardian of this heaven we call forest! 

As a city resident by myself, many a times I came across the question that we live in Pune & Mumbai so what we can do & why we should do anything about forests which are far away from us? Well no one of us have seen the God & certainly by all religions he lives in the heaven yet we warship him, because somewhere we feel it’s that power which keeps us in good shape. Same is with forest, somewhere a good forest exists & you can visit it once a while & get rejuvenated, I think that’s the sole reason we should do our best to conserve the forests not just near to us but even those which are away from us also!

So go ahead friends, you also can become the director of the park as for that you need not have to be in Indian Forest Services; as I always say, being a forester is an attitude you have towards the forest& not just the post, mind it! If you can do this then only I will say you have understood the forest & then you have created your right on the forests as forest belongs only to those who belongs to forest!

Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

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