Monday, April 16, 2018

An Indian Citizen’s Anguish: A Judgment That Wasn’t!



Several thoughts assail a citizen’s anguished mind in the wake of the recent judgment of the Supreme Court in Asok Pande case. Yet it is entirely on expected line, only worse compounded by poor philosophical foundation of its logic. One wonders if this quick judgment delivered inside of two days is aimed at preempting and nullifying Shanti Bhusan’s application that has raised some fundamental questions on legal propriety, not to speak of moral and ethical issues.

There are moral and ethical issues in this case too. For the CJI – whose acts of allocating cases had prompted the 4 senior most judges of the apex court to go public with their anguish – to head this bench to hear the matter rather than recuse himself is the most fundamental. “Nemo iudex in causa sua” – no person shall be a judge in his own cause, goes the well-known judicial principle of natural justice. This proves the very erroneousness of the basic foundation of arguments adduced in the judgment to dismiss the petition. The logic is flawed because it is invalid.

How much this streak of folly runs through the argument is evidenced from the fact that the arguments lasted for less than five minutes, and far from dismissing the petition “in limine”, the judgment was reserved, and delivered without any notices issued to respondents. Public perception of suspicion of events unfolding in the apex court shall haunt us for all times: Was the pronouncement of the judgment made in double-quick time (within two days, after a 5-minute hearing) aimed at forestalling Shanti Bhusan’s petition’s outcome, which though submitted around Pande’s petition, wasn’t registered or numbered or listed and heard till April 13, 2018? Or, will this judgment become the newest threshold to determine Shanti Bhusan’s petition’s outcome, much as the instant judgment leans heavily on the Supreme Court’s hurriedly ordered constitution bench’s judgment of November 10, 2017?

Beyond impugning the basic tenets of legal juridical foundations on “natural justice” and “conflict of interest”, the judgment per se also bristles with fundamental weaknesses on the scaffolding that makes democracy the best available human construct yet: separation of power, checks and balances, rule of law. The judgment deems entrustment and vesting of powers on the CJI as axiomatic and beyond human doubting – and tempered and wrapped with supreme, high-falutin divinity. To wit: “The authority which is conferred upon the Chief Justice, it must be remembered, is vested in a high constitutional functionary. The authority is entrusted to the Chief Justice because such an entrustment of functions is necessary for the efficient transaction of the administrative and judicial work of the Court”. Add the following lines – “In the allocation of cases and the constitution of benches the Chief Justice has an exclusive prerogative. As a repository of constitutional trust, the Chief Justice is an institution in himself” and the egregiousness of axioms are complete. The absolutism attributed to Louis XIV of France “I am the State” (“L’Etat, cest moi”) in the late-17th and early-18th centuries could be apocryphal, but the “absolutism” conferred here in the 21st century by the highest court of the land is for real!

The coup de grĂ ce of the judgment’s rationale comes a touch later though. “The entrustment of functions to the Chief Justice as the head of the institution, is with the purpose of securing the position of the Supreme Court as an independent safeguard for the preservation of personal liberty.” Read the next two utterly presumptuous misjudgments: “There cannot be a presumption of mistrust” and “The oath of office demands nothing less.” Were the same true, the Supreme Court itself wouldn’t have offered the collegium system for appointment of judges to the higher courts of the land rather than leaving it in the hands of the Chief Justice of India.

Looked at in a broader canvas, if the same spirit of oath of office had animated and held fast for all other holders of constitutional offices, we would be living in a paradise with no need of any oversight countervailing bodies!

Clearly divinity with its benediction is in full play here. Their Lordships have invoked divine benediction and blessings to take the failings off a normal possessive individualist man to the realm of the astral, and to posit certain select humans from time to time to be blessed with this transcendental sheen. It is just as well to remember that it’s this innate inexorable human nature that prompted the early man to codify a social contract, today best exemplified in the term “Rule of Law”. Reposing blind faith on the CJI on administrative matters when the role itself is likely to set the tone and pattern of the justice delivery system, especially in times of demand for accountability and clamour for transparency, and when other state organs and public functionaries (the Prime Minister not excepted) are rightfully hauled over the coal in their public acts, betrays a poor philosophical understanding of India’s socio-economic and political reality. It needs no reminding that the words of Thomas Fuller, the 17th century English churchman and historian, “Be you ever so high, the law is above you” or any of its variants is apotheosized today and is on every citizen’s lips. Today is like no other time, especially when the social media has gained traction thanks to the internet highway.  

I guess even a George Curzon would turn in his grave and blanch at the inadequacies of his own egotistical presumptions: “I am George Nathaniel Curzon, a very superior person”. Sadly, aside from its innate weaknesses of the logic and the delusion of grandeur in investing divine certitude and omnipotence on select juridical pantheon(s), the judgment fails to take into account the nation’s prevalent mood, and the raging groundswell for fairness and impartiality that has surged in every citizen’s heart, and the wired world we live in. Neither does the order take into account the fact that it concerns the highest court of the land with no court of appeal beyond it.

Silhouetting the issue against a larger canvas, one anguishes how much Justice Robert H. Jackson’s prescient words in United States vs Wunderlich that men are more often bribed by their loyalties and ambitions than by money ring true in India today. Intellectual dishonesty is insidiously debilitating and way harder to guard against.

One foresees greater disquiet and turmoil in the foreseeable future in an India that already is in ferment. We look up to the Supreme Court to uphold our rights and liberty by strict invocation of the rule of law and constitutional values; it is far too revered an institution to be trifled with. Its wellness shall determine the wellness of India's governance architecture and India's democracy. Clearly, the matter is a battle of accountability/transparency vs. inhered feudal arrogance/opacity, of constitutional separation of power/checks and balances/intellectual honesty/openness vs. conflation of power/nepotism/cloying cronyism, of the status quo-ists/hidebound conservatives vs. neo-Indian foot soldiers/passionate proponents of existential realism. The dialectics inevitably, even inexorably, shall play out with equal vehemence on both sides of the divide for quite awhile in this battle of attrition.

Plurality, equality, fairness, time-tested conventions, judicial morality, transparency, rule of law are all germane to any modern democracy in a world corralled by internet highway. If these traits are absent or vitiated, it shall strike at the very root and diminish democracy. Much as opacity must make way for transparency, feudal hidebound Indian hierarchical order must give way to logic, nous, and smarts. Sadly, this hurriedly crafted judgment delivered from the pulpit of justice is far from ennobling and edifying – not for the present, doubtless not for the future too.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Tiger Reserves And Core Area Inviolability

In a visit to the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) in November 2014, my views on the dire need to rid the core area of human habitation was further fortified. Periyar is an entirely different reserve unlike most others, and quite similar to Sunderbans. Tigers are hard to sight. The tourists are taken around in motor boats in the two important rivers, namely Periyar and Mulla, which pass through this reserve and also form a lake – more aptly a big reservoir – caused by the Mulla-Periyar dam constructed in 1895. Travel by road in the core area is not open to the visiting public. It is a fairly large tiger reserve spread across 925 sq km with a core area of 881 sq km (95 percent) and a buffer area of 44 sq km (5 percent). The tiger reserve is full with tropical rainforests, tropical evergreen forests and moist deciduous forests.
Tiger In Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sourabh Bharti, Sudhansu Mohanty
Tiger in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (Image: Sourabh Bharti)
The famous Sabarimala shrine is located in one part of the tiger reserve. This has been declared as buffer zone. Pilgrims – more than twenty million in number – visit the shrine in a short span of two months every year. While the entire tiger reserve is dominated by rainforest and is protected, an area of approximately 209 hectares called Pachakanam Estate (also called Downton Estate) is held as a private property situated in the core and critical habitat – which apart from tigers, is also home to many other wild animals like elephants, gaursambar, barking deer, wild boar, Nilgiri langur, lion-tailed macaque, wild dog, leopard etc. – of this tiger reserve. The area, originally an excellent patch of rainforests, has been converted into cardamom plantation. The estate is bordered by critical tiger habitat on all sides. Apart from cardamom cultivation, the area has also being converted and put to other land use. The estate management engages more than 600 local laborers. The transportation of these laborers through the 12 km stretch of roads constructed in the tiger habitat has caused severe biotic pressure and vehicular pollution. As we drove in closer to the perimeter of the Pachakanam Estate and alighted, we saw through the wired fences the hideous permanent structures in the core area of the Reserves. This seemed outrageous in the core area and completely unacceptable to a lay man, let alone the conservationists. About 100 laborers reside inside the estate in these permanent homes and at times engaged in illegal activities. Only a few years ago, five laborers were arrested for possessing illegal sambar meat.
Tiger In Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sourabh Bharti, Sudhansu Mohanty
Tiger in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (Image: Sourabh Bharti)
Also Read Part-I: e-Eye Of The Tiger
The Periyar Tiger Reserve over the last few years had discussed the issue of transfer and acquisition of this estate from the private management by the Government. The estates management too was willing to sell the property. Though included in the annual plan of operations the past few years, it hadn’t been possible for the National Tiger Conservation Authority to mobilise funds for acquisition due to budgetary constraints under the Project Tiger’s ongoing centrally-sponsored scheme. Over time, the amount for monetary compensation had grown and in end-2014 stood at around Rs 60 crore.
“Why can’t we pay and make the area inviolate?” I asked SP. By now I was fairly aware of the imperatives of core-buffer implications. He explained the fund constraints, the lack of holistic appreciation of eco-system services that a tiger reserve offers and overall apathy to environmental concerns. In my tour report, I said that since the critical core area of tiger reserve – the go/no-go forest bounds – had been severely affected due to human intervention as also associated problems like use of fertilisers and pesticides that run off downstream affecting the pristine ecosystem, there was an acute need to acquire the property at the earliest to make the core tiger reserve area completely inviolate.
Tiger In Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sourabh Bharti, Sudhansu Mohanty
Tiger in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (Image: Sourabh Bharti)
Also Read Part-II: TESS Conveys Project Tiger Activities More Aptly Than PT
I decided to plead during my discussions for the revised estimates for 2014-15 fiscal year with Ratan Watal, then Secretary (Expenditure) in the Ministry of Finance, now Principal Adviser, Niti Aayog and member of Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council. “It’s called Pachakanam or Downton Estate,” I said, by way of introduction. “The owners had opted to move out of the core area on payment of compensation for the land. All documents had been readied. The issue has been – still is – the funds, which over the years, had grown from a paltry few crores to sixty crore rupees now.” I made a strong pitch for the additional sum. The memory of my interactions with the field managers led by the energetic and enthusiastic John Mathew as we drove over to the patch of land where cardamom cultivation was carried out by a family engaged in business employing about six hundred workers, that had ravaged the core area came rushing back to my mind. “I’d request an additional 60 crore rupees be given to us for Periyar Tiger Reserve to make it completely inviolate,” I said, and explained why.
Watal and his team of officers heard me patiently, appreciating the need, though a few eyes rolled disappointedly at me for my senseless perseverance and pertinacity in the wake of clear government directives. True, the Ministry of Finance, hamstrung by the new government’s emphasis on increased devolution of funds to States, hadn’t had enough leeway to agree to my request. The focus was on slashing funds to reduce fiscal deficit, not how such acts would impact ongoing activities directly or in its rippling effects in months and years to come. Being myopic and purblind helps governance – the reason why I am not so sanguine about the formulaic sustainable development model bandied about incessantly. I feel underwhelmed.
Tiger In Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sourabh Bharti, Sudhansu Mohanty
Tiger in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (Image: Sourabh Bharti)
Also Read Part-III: Tigers’ Wellness Is Our Wellness Too
Oddly enough, tiger safari is a clear possibility in Periyar, which receives about 7-8 lakh visitors round the year, including thousands of foreign tourists. Given its landscape, the tourists are allowed to visit the Tiger Reserve only on boats. With limits placed on numbers, many tourists frustrate upon denied entry. One possible way out of this ecotourism conundrum is the making of a tiger safari in the buffer area – just a kilometre off the Kumily town. The rewilded tigers (orphaned infant cubs, injured tigers, trained and rewilded to cope with the demands of wild living) as well as aging tigers that are often sent to the zoos could be relocated in the suggested safari much like the planned tiger safari in Kanha Tiger Reserve. Given human passion and thrill to sight tigers in the wild, this would also take the pressure off boat rides inside the Tiger Reserve. Also, given the craze for sighting tigers in the wild, the internal rate of return on the amount invested will be very high, and the investment can be recovered easily in 2-3 years’ time. It would also provide employment to the local population in ecotourism, where focus on eco-conservation could be the essence – to highlight through innovative and feasible modules such as solar-panel atop jeeps and buses to ferry tourists in this unique safari. It is entirely possible that this can work out as a win-win model for all stakeholders including frustrated tourists denied entry on account of carrying capacity limitation while simultaneously appealing to the tourists’ sense of thrill for sighting tigers in the wild.
Tiger in Kanha Tiger Reserve (Image: SP Yadav)
Tiger in Kanha Tiger Reserve (Image: SP Yadav)
I can’t but wax eloquent on the beauty, quietude, and serenity of Periyar, especially the two spots I visited on boat: Thanikudy and Mullakudy. In my thanksgiving email to John Mathew, the passionate Assistant Director of Periyar Tiger Reserve, I wrote:
“First up I must say that your email ID is so representative of your surrounds and the (wild) environment you work in that vividly captures, more than in one way, the pristine world of Periyar Tiger Reserve. I write to thank you for being with us all the while we’re there and showing us around the good work PTR has done. I only hope you don’t forget the few ideas I gave you: recording the gurgling music of Periyar at Thanikudy as the river bounces along on its pathway and strikes a magical tune punctuated with the birds’ myriad notes that are so mellifluous to the human ears. I can well imagine how dulcet the river’s and the nature’s notes will be in the serenity of the night when the nocturnal forest creatures would be only adding to the charm of the pitter-patter of the cascading river! As I said, the effect would be soporific to the unquiet and disquiet urban minds and should put them to sleep [call it sleeping music (Sleepsic), if you will!], apart from being a lullaby to lull the babies to sleep (Lullasic!). Record all 24 hours, chip-chop it to the best notes in a CD of 2-3 hours. It should work. The other thing: capturing the forest by night and wrapping the film on a CFL bulb would be creating/dispersing a forest ecosystem on the bedroom walls as a night light. It’ll be infinitely more apt than any night light I have seen and experienced.”
Tiger In Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sourabh Bharti, Sudhansu Mohanty
Tiger in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (Image: Sourabh Bharti)
Also Read Part-IV: Environment vs. Development: Who Wins?
When I went next to Periyar on a private visit, a year later in end-December 2015, it hadn’t been done yet. Amid our animated chatter and bonhomie, I nudged John reminding him of our past discussions and how tiger-men need to leverage every idea coming their way to spread environmental awareness among common people.
Before I sign off, a word on the much talked about radio-collars aimed at studying tiger behaviour in the wild. We had travelled to Kanha to change the battery of the radio-collar of a particular tiger. We followed the tiger sedulously but it kept eluding us. We saw it a couple of times on the jungle path but it walked away nonchalantly, and finally climbed up the hilly terrain and went out of our vision. We couldn’t dart to sedate it; we weren’t close enough for that. It’s the first of the requirements; it affords time and opportunity to either change the battery of the earlier radio-collar or put a new collar around its neck. The evening before, I had seen radio-collars for the first time. They are rather bulky, weighing around 2.8 kg. It’s been hard finding a smarter one with transmitters and GPS. Though a well-grown adult tiger’s body weight ranges between 180-215 kg, in an anthropocentric sense any artificial appendage is likely to cause initial uneasiness, much like we feel wearing a ring the first time around. But animals, wild and domestic, adapt themselves to such accoutrements. There is no scientific study yet confirming radio-collars have disturbed the courtship or other behavioral patterns of a tiger, as classically evidenced in Panna tigers, where the reintroduced tigers were “collared” to facilitate monitoring. They are doing just fine like any others.
Tiger In Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sudhansu Mohanty Prayag Mohanty Tiger Collar
Tiger with radio-collar (Image: Prayag Mohanty)
Also Read Part-V: The Oxymoron Called “Rewilding Tigers”

Postscript: On promotion, I moved over from the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change to the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Though not new to the MoD and its ways, for some strange inscrutable reason, the contrast was startling. I felt it inchmeal. As I pored over files and engaged in discussions with various stakeholders, my mind was forever ticking – my declarative and episodic memories quickly going on an overdrive. It was the financial outlay, stupid! I told myself finally – upwards of 200 times than the ones I’d gotten used to the past few years. Defence sector vs. Social sector! Here in the MoD with a whopping budget of three lakh forty-odd thousand crore rupees and ballooning year after year, sixty crore rupees was chicken feed. Such proposals didn’t even reach me, my joint secretaries were competent to concur in the proposals, while months before I was cadging – and failing, to get a move on. My mind, spaced-out, wasn’t quite prepared to accept the reality, refusing to take leave of our skewed developmental puzzlement. But such is the deigning today on social and environmental issues.
Tiger In Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sourabh Bharti, Sudhansu Mohanty
Tiger in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (Image: Sourabh Bharti)
Not to speak of depredations heaped on Mother Earth for sake of development. The Madhav Gadgil Committee prescriptions to declare 64 percent of the Western Ghats – the hotspots of mega-biodiversity – as an Ecologically Sensitive Area had been whittled down to a mere 37 percent by the Kasturirangan Committee came floating back to my mind. How the polemics over the recommendations of the two Committee’s Reports had cleaved the environmental community? The hardcore conservationists battling the development-oriented realpolitik! Now, as hurricanes – Irma, Jose, Maria et al – pound the Caribbean and southern US with breathless regularity and wildfires engulf Napa valley in California, my small mind unbeknownst to me, creeps back naively to innocent times when human beings lived in the state of nature – no matter how solitary and poor, even nasty and brutish they all were – but in harmony with Mother Nature they revered. And, how often have I not wondered if this isn’t the time for us to get back to the same reverence? The role that Tiger Reserves play isn’t inconsiderable on Planet Earth.
(Reproduced from Indus Dictum)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The National Tiger Conservation Authority’s Moment of Glory

The estimation indicated a 30 percent increase in the tiger population over the last census of 2010, with an estimate of 2,226 tigers
Tigers in Kanha Tiger Reserve
Image: Sourabh Bharti

This article is an exclusive extract from the author’s forthcoming memoir, Environment Through Finance Eyes.

Today, tigers have indeed become a hugely conservation-dependent species. The major threats to tigers are: poaching that is driven by an illegal international demand for tiger parts and products; depletion of tiger prey caused by illegal bush meat consumption; and habitat loss due to the ever increasing demand for forested lands. To gauge the success of conservation efforts as well as to have a finger on the pulse of tiger population and their ecosystems, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in collaboration with the State Forest Departments, National Conservation NGOs, and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) conducts a National assessment for the Status of Tigers, Co-predators, Prey and their Habitat every four years.
The methodology used for this assessment was approved by the Tiger Task Force in 2005. The first assessment was done in 2006. It had estimated 1,411 tigers (lower and upper limits being 1,165 and 1,657) and the last country level estimation of 2010 had indicated a figure of 1706 (lower and upper limits being 1,520-1,909 tigers). However, the 2010 assessment also showed a decline in tiger occupied area. This decline in tiger occupancy was recorded in areas outside of tiger reserves, indicating loss of habitat quality and extent – a crucial element essential for maintaining genetic connectivity between individual tiger populations. To address this vital conservation concern, the NTCA in collaboration with the WII had delineated the minimal tiger habitat corridors connecting tiger reserves for implementing landscape scale tiger conservation. All tiger reserves began managing their tiger populations based on a tiger conservation plan (TCP), which addresses specific prescriptions for core, buffer, and corridor habitats.

Tiger in Kanha Tiger Reserve {Image: S. P. Yadav)

Also Read: The Full Tiger Series by Sudhansu Mohanty

The NTCA and Project Tiger’s moment of glory came in January 2015. The third round of country level tiger status assessment had been completed in 2014, and the team had put together its findings. Now the estimation indicated a 30 percent increase in the tiger population over the last census of 2010, with an estimate of 2,226 – the lower and upper limits being 1,945 and 2,491 respectively. Looked another way, it suggested that India now was home to around 70% of tiger population amongst the 13 tiger-range countries in the world. India’s long history of conserving the species through Project Tiger had come of age. A thrilled Prakash Javadekar who released the estimation report and wrote out the number – 2,226 – on the white board in front of a packed audience, went on to delightfully say that India now was also prepared to export tigers to any country of the world that was interested in conserving this flagship and charismatic animal in the wild!

Tiger in Kanha Tiger Reserve
Tiger in Kanha Tiger Reserve {Image: S. P. Yadav)

Every success brings with it dollops of imaginary skepticism and gobs of jealousy from fellow practitioners or those who archly pretend to be one. The intent often is malicious and sinister to trash and fluff the study, and least to do with questioning data on scientific basis. It was hence no different even in the tiger-land. Soon a nattering group of biologists questioned the reliability of India’s recently released tiger population estimation published in a journal from Oxford. I was surprised when I first heard about it. And I wondered: Was it a case of envy and neglect or lack of visibility or all of the above that seeded this and prompted them to question the assessment? I checked with people who were in the know of things. I wasn’t far off in my surmise. The issue went on for a few months. Eventually, it was the team of two outstanding scientists of the Wildlife Institute of India, Yadvendradev Jhala and Qamar Qureshi, who nailed the lies in an article in the April 2015 issue of Sanctuary Asia. I can do no better than let the duo speak in their words and explain it best.
“The reliability of India’s recent tiger population estimation has been questioned by a paper published in a scientific journal by authors from Oxford.
Since 2005, a group of biologists led by Dr. Ullas Karanth have been critical of India’s tiger status assessments. The paper published by his student from Oxford is a reiteration and synthesis of these views. Essentially, the paper criticises the very basis of sound ecological relationships using theoretical statistical models that are based on reducing the quantum of sign intensity of tigers to mere presence or absence. The paper and subsequent press releases consider the use of double sampling in estimating tiger numbers as flawed. The paper further states that the logic of presuming that there should be more tigers in areas where we find more tiger signs is not reliable, though we have demonstrated such relationships with data repeatedly.”

Deer in Kanha Tiger Reserve {Image: S. P. Yadav)

Also Read Part-I: e-Eye Of The Tiger 

Then they explain step by step, how the tiger estimation is carried out across the country; the scientific and the pragmatic rationale and the processes involved; the other option of camera trapping all areas for greater accuracy that’s financially costly and in pockets of low tiger numbers even unreliable, compared to the present scat-based DNA analysis.
“We first establish relationships of tiger abundance with tiger habitat extent and quality, prey abundance, human pressures and intensity of tiger signs from areas where we have very reliable information on tiger density through camera traps. We subsequently use this relationship to predict tiger abundance in areas where camera traps cannot be deployed, but are known to have tigers. The Oxford paper in the Journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution and press releases offer few alternatives to our approach at estimating tiger abundance at the landscape scale. The paper talks about using joint distribution modelling of covariates, without realising that this approach too is a form of double sampling – the same principle used by us and ingrained in ecological and statistical theory. Often ‘occupancy analysis’ is considered as an alternative to population estimation.
Occupancy provides estimates of where tigers are found, or more importantly, are likely to be found. We estimate tiger occupancy as a probability of a forest patch to harbour tigers. But occupancy does not tell us anything about how many tigers there are – just that tigers are likely present. Clearly, occupancy is not a solution to estimating tiger numbers.

Tiger in Kanha Tiger Reserve {Image: S. P. Yadav)
Tiger in Kanha Tiger Reserve {Image: S. P. Yadav)

Also Read Part-III: Tigers’ Wellness Is Our Wellness Too

All this understandably ends up confusing the public and even decision-makers. Differences of opinion are essential and can be positive to conservation. But as we see it, the only theoretical alternative that might serve the purpose even better than what we have been able to achieve for the latest tiger status assessment would be to camera trap all areas where tigers occur. This would unquestionably provide a more precise estimate, but the resources required would be too large, and in some areas that have very low tiger numbers, camera trapping itself would prove to be an unreliable data gathering tool, when compared, for instance, to scat-based DNA analysis. There is the additional problem of stolen cameras (and consequent data loss) that virtually every field biologist has come to terms with when working in human-dominated areas.
The bottom line, in our view, is that this approach may be ideal, but it is impractical. Until scientists are able to camera trap all tiger occupied areas, we cannot currently see a better option to our approach, which uses the best available science and technology to provide reliable estimates of tiger numbers in India. It should be noted that 77 percent of our estimated mid-point of 2,226 tigers came from camera trap data (1,570 individual tigers photo-captured). The remaining 23 per cent were estimated from faecal DNA, plus models based on sound ecological relationships. The actual number of tigers in India are anywhere between 1,945 and 2,491, signifying a major conservation success story.”

Tiger in Kanha Tiger Reserve
Tiger in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (Image: Sourabh Bharti)

Also Read Part-IV: Environment vs. Development: Who Wins?

Succinctly put, Jhala and Qureshi stopped short of calling it a glaring instance of intellectual dishonesty, but to the discerning it was nothing but just that. I’m fairly confident that the duo will soon enough irrevocably nail the lies peddled in a scientific journal to discredit the national tiger survey results as inaccurate and muddling the readers mind. I guess tigers in the wild not only evoke lots of thrill but also oodles of jealousy and heartburns for the also-rans, and consequentially plenitude of shenanigans. I call these aberrations the tiger politics in India where, like any areas of high visibility, the two-legged creatures who fall by the wayside outshone by others on merit and hard yards put in, bristle in green envy and take periodic shambolic potshots at others who strictly follow the ethics of scientific methodology and NTCA’s protocol for tiger population estimation and tiger conservation management. And if I may add in a lighter vein, notwithstanding the fact that despite their leonine persona, the tigers exhibit “secular” values, and are “democratic” in their outlook and behaviour – something truly admirable in today’s fraught times of polarised outlook!
[… to be concluded on Sunday, Nov 26th]
(Reproduced from Indus Dictum, 19.11.2017)