Congress’s Telangana headache

Even as the Congress seemed to be indulging in some talks on the Telangana issue, it looks like a dead end once again. One really cannot even second guess when the Congress is likely to resolve the matter.

The Elusive Tiger

Did you know that rats, mice, crows and fruit bats are the only four animals that can be legally hunted in India?

In a country where at least one tiger is found dead every ten days, the above statistic seems most meaningless.

It may not directly matter to you and me but the fact is that it should matter. Almost half the world’s wild tiger population is present in India. But. Tiger numbers in the country are dwindling. Very fast. The animal is beautiful and majestic. But this is not why it needs to be protected and conserved. There are hard facts and data that show the danger they are in. And therefore need to be saved.

Between 2000 and 2010, body parts of 474 tigers were seized.

The Tiger Task Force of 2005 spoke about tiger habitats and the need to rethink conservation in India. Given that tigers are territorial beings, the debate on whether locals should be relocated from near tiger habitats, or continue to live within the reserve area, continues.

In a country where management is a massive crisis, in every area you can think of, forest management of course isn’t really up there. We don’t have a forest management strategy. Forests are not wilderness areas. They are habitats of people. There are millions who depend on forests for their livelihood. It’s the survival base of the poorest. Given all of this, the tiger of course is in double jeopardy.

Data says that in the core areas of tiger reserves there 19,000 families spread across 273 villages in the country. In tiger reserves in general, there are 66,000 families in 1500 villages. In three decades till 2005, only 80 villages have been relocated from tiger reserves. People are dependent on forests for sustenance. And this has only put more pressure on forests. And the irony of all this is that as per the 2005 census, half our tigers and other wildlife were found outside 20 reserves.

Tourism – Good or Bad?

So when we talk about tiger conservation, why are we talking about humans first? Well, the reality is that we are the ones endangering the species by the minute.

Tourists at a tiger sigting spot at the Corbett Tiger Reserve, Nainital, Uttarakhand.

While those tribals and locals have almost always lived there, there is a bigger problem that’s affecting our tiger population. And that is tourism. How many of us, during vacations to national parks, have piled up on the tour guide/forest guard to sight a tiger in the wild? And these holiday resorts cash in on the lure of the tiger. Forests have become a product, says Swati Sheshadrie, Programme Coordinator, Equation. (Equations is a Bangalore-based research, campaign and advocacy organisation)

“Tourism is primarily a private industry”, explains Swati. Even as one goes to these resorts/hotels, it isn’t about enjoying the quiet calm of the jungle. Loud music and bon fires are quite common. Some even get married here. Destination weddings!

On a recent visit to the Corbett Tiger Reserve in Nainital district, I saw the line of resorts on the road leading up to the reserve itself. This has been a massive cause for concern for a while now. Tigers have been affected by this sudden influx of people and have been finding it difficult to cross to the other side which is the Ramnagar forest. The resorts stand in between Corbett and Ramnagar with the Kosi running alongside.

Swati says that the owners of most of the tourist establishments are in fact not from that region. They buy land and the original land owners end up working on that hotel/lodge as drivers, gardeners and so on. Clothes of the tourists are washed in nearby rivers, polluting the water. Vegetables are not bought locally either.

The Jungle Lodges and Resorts vehicles are the only ones used in forests in Karnataka.

So should we stop tourism altogether? Swati says no. She explains that it’s about increasing the forest in the buffer areas, thereby reducing pressure on the core. She gives the example of the government-run Jungle Lodges in Kabini in Karnataka. This lodge has a limited facility and follows regulations meticulously. I visited this place last year and found it to be quite well-run. The only disappointing factor would be the lack of takers when the films on wildlife are screened. Swati says that in Karnataka all vehicles going into the forests in any resort belong to the Jungle lodges.

Swati says that regulation is required and that instead of evicting local communities, they can be used as watch dogs. Tourism can be used as a tool to transform. Otherwise, it will only do more bad than good.

Alternatives to relocation

Conservation is a collective responsibility. Coming back to the conflict between humans and tigers, there are divided views on relocation of locals. Ghazala Shahabuddin, an Associate Professor at Delhi’s Ambedkar University, sees relocation as a failure. She says that the rehabilitation process is not just about money but should be a hand-holding process.

Chandigarh-based activist Madhu Sarin says that relocation violates the Forest Rights Act. She says that one cannot conclude that the rights of the tigers are superior to the rights of the tribals.

Most of the locals in and around tiger reserves in fact don’t have any land of their own. They live on revenue land. This has put the administration in a dilemma.

But Ghazala also offers alternatives to relocation. Eco tourism. Jeep rides. Small scale farming. Employment opportunities. Ghazala says that there can be an MoU with locals and negotiations can be made to reach a middle path. The problem however, she explains, is that nothing has been tried yet.

People versus wildlife

Tourists need to be responsible and play the role of watch-dogs

Ravi Chellam, Director of Research and Conservation at the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust’s Bangalore unit, says that there is a huge gap between intention of the law and hot it is being implemented. He feels that it isn’t about people versus the forest department, but people versus wildlife.

Whenever a tiger kills cattle, the locals generally immediately poison the cattle which in turn kills the tiger. The World Wildlife Fund India has now started compensating families immediately after the cattle dies so as to prevent them from poisoning the cattle. This of course is misused by several.

And then there is wildlife crime. Poachers have become smarter by the day. Even camera traps are stolen these days. This year, till June 10th, 48 tigers were found dead in the country. In 2011, 56 tigers died including 9 that were confirmed cases of poaching. In 2010, 52 tigers died including 24 confirmed poaching cases. The numbers are only going up.

Today all tiger deaths are assumed to be caused by poaching unless proven otherwise.

On a recent visit to the Corbett Tiger Reserve, which has over 200 tigers, I spotted none. Probably symbolic of the fact that tigers are fast disappearing.


Vaishnavi Vittal was selected for and attended the Centre for Science and Environment Fellowship Media Briefing Workshop on ‘Tigers, tiger habitats and their conservation in India’, held in New Delhi and Nanital in June 2012

Lawyers versus media

The friction between lawyers and media persons does not seem to be dying down. A day after that awful attack took place, the Karnataka Bar Council and Advocates Association have taken a decision to boycott court proceedings on Monday. Further, they will not argue any cases for media houses and withdraw from existing ones. They will also file defamation cases against those media houses that referred to lawyers and advocates as ‘goondas’. The Bangalore Police meanwhile have arrested four lawyers in connection with Friday’s attack.

One television journalist asked the most appropriate and significant question there is to ask, now. ‘What is happening?’ Well, nobody seems to know exactly. But the problem that spiralled out of control on March 2nd has definitely sparked off something.

Lawyers said that the media coverage has been one-sided, that the atrocities carried out on the lawyers was conveniently left out or mentioned only in passing. Well, true. But if the lawyers are going to go about town pointing fingers at the media, they also need to be willing to acknowledge the fact that ‘they’ in fact ‘started’ it in the first place. Many say that it was the media that provoked the lawyers at the city civil court. I was right there. And the chaos unfolded right before my eyes. It was a group of close to 30 lawyers who started it.

Now some city lawyers and the Advocates Association say that those lawyers were in fact not lawyers at all and that they bought black coats in bulk from a nearby store. Fine, let us take what they say, at face value. So if these lawyers were ‘fake’, why didn’t a single ‘real’ lawyer come to our rescue that day? Why did they just stand and watch? Easy question. No simple answer I’m sure.

That said, I would also like to acknowledge that a section of the media did express their anger in a completely unacceptable manner. But no advocate seems to be acknowledging their mistake as well. If 10 scribes damaged vehicles belonging to lawyers, are you going to call the media, in general, unethical? If so, that should apply to you as well. 30 lawyers may have started the mayhem, so we will also call lawyers in general to be violent. But I wouldn’t.

It is sad that the media and lawyers have brought it down to a game of ‘tu tu main main’. Lawyers have now started citing the Indian Constitution and other rules to prove that media persons cannot be allowed on court premises without prior permission. That’s complete bull. For the past many months, media persons have religiously tracked and covered high profile court cases, many of which have been filed by lawyers themselves. The lawyers have come to us and given sound bytes. After all this, they now decide to point out laws.

The issue is very simple. Friday’s attack was unwarranted. Those who attacked or assaulted must be identified and punished. Then, there should be a proper solution to whether the media should be allowed near the courts. If you don’t want us there, then fine, say so clearly. If the police can’t give us protection, then say that as well. If the state government can’t make up their mind, then be clear about that too.

At the end of the day, we have no interest in indulging in any sort of duel. We want to do our job and go back. CBI inquiry, judicial probe, committee report, are all for the sake of records. When you are on ground, none of it is going to matter. It’s going to come down to how the lawyers and media really want to be on the field.

Mahatma Gandhi preached non-violence. Ironically, he was a qualified lawyer and a practicing journalist.

What happened at the Bangalore civil court

They say it’s a black Friday. Lawyers went on rampage at the city civil court in Bangalore. Media was attacked. Public property vandalised. It was a day of good and bad. Here’s what really happened.

It all started at around 10.30 AM. Former Karnataka minister Janardhan Reddy was moments away from being brought for his case at the special CBI court. A majority of us were standing at the Canteen entrance of the court, while several other media persons were at the main entrance. A group of about 30 lawyers walked up to us and told us to leave, hurling abuses all along. It was all because of the negative publicity they received back in January when the lawyers had protested on another incident. They were here today to seek their revenge.

These lawyers were clearly agitated. They wanted us out of there. We slowly walked out, not wanting to create any trouble. They continued screaming. Hurling abuses all along. Pushing some of the cameramen. We were helpless even as the police watched on doing nothing.

Just then Janardhan Reddy had arrived. At the main entrance. We rushed to that entrance and the lawyers blocked all the media persons there as well. Pushing and throwing anything and everything they could hold on to. We were forced out of the city civil court, even as Reddy was taken inside the court.

We were all disgusted at the cops who did absolutely nothing. NOTHING. I knew that the cops could also do nothing since it is an open secret that they are obviously scared of the lawyers. We tried getting in touch with top police officials. No one responded. The media felt utterly helpless.

The lawyers continued their tirade. Pelted stones. One stone hit a cameraman of a local news channel. He was injured on his head. We shot visuals of all this, at the same time battling for our own safety. It was a confusing situation because no one really knew what to do.

Some of the local media channels decided to sit on a flash dharna, blocking traffic. This despite understanding the inconvenience it caused to the general public. Traffic was blocked for a long time. The mediapersons finally relented and went back to the court entrance. They tried preventing lawyers from entering the court premises. It was tit for tat. There was a lot of chaos till Janardhan Reddy was again being taken out of the court. The court granted his custody to CBI till March 12. The media ran to get visuals of his van leaving the court.

This was when we thought the situation was okay, and under control and that we could leave. But another altercation broke out between the lawyers and few of the media persons. The lawyers again started pushing and hurling abuses.

They started throwing anything they could find. A helmet came flying barely 2 feet from where I was standing. Next came a huge stone. Another helmet. A water bottle. And the police were requesting us to only leave. Stones were being pelted at the closest Outdoor Broadcast Van. The police used their lathis to shoo us from the scene, hoping that that would help. We were still confused about whether we should leave or not, whether we should shoot the goings on or not. That’s when more and more stones came our way. The lawyers, who till now, were hurling the stones from inside the court, slowly started moving towards us on the road.

We knew we were in trouble. That’s when we ran, literally. We fled the place. I jumped into my OB van with another reporter. Several OB vans belonging to local channels were damaged. We went up to KR circle and waited there. Most of us were feeling quite foolish, our egos hurt, that we had to run from those lawyers.

Channels had already begun broadcast of this news. It was national.

We then received information that several media persons were roughed up by the lawyers, several injured. At about 12.30 PM, when a Deputy Commissioner of Police arrived on the spot, he was hit on the head with a stone. That was probably when the police finally realised that they could no longer remain mute spectators. They finally resorted to lathi charge and fired four rounds of tear gas shells in the air. The Police Commissioner visited the spot briefly but left the scene before speaking to the media.

We were all shocked at the passive way in which the entire situation was handled. Why was no one supporting the media?

We went back to the spot to find that the situation continued to be tense. The lawyers were provoked just by our presence. Many media persons vandalised cars which belonged to lawyers, venting out their anger. One lawyer (unsure if he was part of the unruly gang) was severely kicked and thrashed by the media. And we were repeatedly being told not to film any of this. It was the most unfortunate part of the day. The media was doing exactly what we preach to others. Was violence the answer to violence? It was sheer mob mentality, rage and seething anger. All of it manifested in just the wrong way.

There was a protest at KR circle. Another lawyer was roughed up by media persons. It was ugly. A local channel reporter even prevented me from doing my recording saying nothing that the media is indulging in should be caught on camera. Not realising that some policeman on duty could very easily have captured this on one of their handy cams for evidence.

We finally went to the Vidhana Soudha, met the Home Minister. Met the CM at his residence.Most who spoke to the CM were those who were not even present at the spot when hell broke loose. There were many speakers. The CM seemed to be in his own world. By the end of the day, he ordered a judicial probe. No arrests were made still. Despite reels of footage showing the lawyers in action.

The judges who seem to have nothing to say about the lawyers who started it all, I have only one thing to say, Shame On You. You have no right to sit and deliver verdicts if you can’t control your men and stand up to the injustice. Would you watch on if you were being pelted with stones?

Black Friday

Today was a bad day for the media. Even as we were attacked and assaulted by lawyers, we had absolutely no right to stoop down to their level. Some said that that was the best way to teach them a lesson. How would it help to take these lawyers to court? These were lawyers who knew their job well. But the media, which is carrying out blackouts, and protests, should have also had some control.

The biggest faulter in all this, however, is the police. It took them close to two hours to take action. For two hours the police were motioning to us to leave the court, hoping to ensure peace. But they did nothing to control those shameless lawyers. After their DCP was hit, it seemed to have hit them as well.

None of the top police officials even responded to our calls. Most refused to come on the spot. Why were these men in uniform so hesitant to protect us? After all isn’t it their job?

Of what use is a police force, if they have to stand and watch people being abused? If they are scared of lawyers, why don’t they admit it? Why not have the armed forces man court complexes instead of the police?

The Home Minister may be in the man in charge, but he doesn’t seem man enough to take control. The city top cop should have at least stayed at the spot. After all, he isn’t a politician but a bureaucrat. While we could expect inactive behaviour from the Home Minister, why didn’t an IPS officer live up the fact that he is meant to do his job.

That said, my heart goes out to those policemen who were injured. I hear that one constable was hit by a wooden bench that was dropped from one of the top floors of the court complex.

The CM may say that every profession has both good and bad people. He needs to wake up to his senses, realise the situation, and stop making empty promises.

The media cannot be attacked and must not attack back either. The primetime debates are there for that.

As for the good that happened. It was all for Janardhan Reddy. The only one smiling.