Please rise above meetings & reviews

Politicians are known to be insulated from all that accounts for sensitivity. So, there is hardly any need for a reality check.

D N Singh

Politicians are known to be insulated from all that accounts for sensitivity. So, there is hardly any need for a reality check on the make-believe political realisation of the ground reality, whether it concerns the humans or the animals. Their behaviours manifest that they only want to celebrate the years of being in rule through statistical sophistries on paper and kowtowing with the issues at the bottom.

Three adult elephants met miserable deaths due to electrocution in Keonjhar district of Orissa. Not a hair wilted in the power corridors of Bhubaneswar. Of course, a poor forest guard was fired. Because it is no stuff of garlands or accolades that the big bosses would stick their necks out to wear one and gape at the ubiquitous video cameras.

Unfortunately, the moral responsibility expected from the state`s Forest Ministry was no where in sight and the reaction from the Forest Department`s officers was bereft of the corresponding sense of responsibility. However, a forest guard was punished as if it was he who, like a shepherd, had to tend the elephants away from the naked high tension (HT) electric wires in the jungle.

In last 10 years, going by the official statistics, 150 wild elephants have died due to electrocution. So, we lose on an average 15 of these Schedule-1 species each year because of the blackmail environmentalism of the department. And that goes on unabated mainly due to the reckless way the HT wires are left hanging low like Damocle`s sword on the poor pachyderms. But, not a single officer was held responsible for any of these deaths. Though funds are being pumped in for the corridor development and conservation within the major habitats, the results that emerge only point at the pilferage and misutilisation of funds set aside for elephants.

And the worse which is in public view, barely 20 kms from the state’s capital city, is the Chandka Elephant Reserve. It does not require any commission to establish that, all the elephants from this habitat are out in the open and prone to all the dangers, including electrocution. Trenches along the habitat built with crores of rupees are extremely porous and inside, the scene is pathetic.

Media is usually kept at bay by the people who rule over the jungles and any incidental query is often imperiously phoo-phooed by the big bosses of the Forest Department. The Ministry of Forest under Naveen Patnaik shows its complete inability to comprehend the obligations that come along with handling public money. Though for the top officers, the money from the exchequer is simply an `entitlement`. People dwelling in the forest areas also have nurtured wide-spread skepticism of the sincerity of the Forest Department.

Now, what seemingly causes the real rot is the unholy alliance between the forest people and the power distribution companies. One rides roughshod over the norms and the other chooses to keep quiet. Back in 2004, the Wildlife Society of Orissa (WSO), a non-government organization, drew the attention of the state government about the urgency to restrain the power companies from mindless spread of HT power lines and book the erring officials under criminal acts.

"Unfortunately, since the last one decade nobody has given any thought to that, let alone punish any engineer of the power company so far," Biswajit Mohanty, of WSO, said.

"As observance of all the statutory guidelines and safety norms is one of the prime conditions of the license, the OERC (Orissa Electricity Regulatory Commission) has the powers to cancel the licenses if a government agency like the Forest Department points out the absolute negligence of the power companies, which it never does," rued Mohanty.

Sadly, the department`s actions remain limited to issuing letters to the power companies. The other day, a PCCF was heard speaking to a local channel absolving his entire gamut of responsibility by saying that, they have issued letters and more letters. Can he tell how many people from the power companies have been penalized or punished for violation of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972? The Act stipulates that any such crime related to this animal is punishable by a minimum of three years’ jail and maximum of seven years.

Can the PCCF tell how many of the concerned DFOs visit the areas for the physical verification of the state of HT power lines in habitats like Sambalpur, Keonjhar, Sukinda, Deogarh, Narasinghpur, Bamra and even Chandka? The IFS tag gives them a license to assume that they are cleverer than many, which is a curious assumption, so they think that everyone else in the world are fools.

At a time when half of Orissa`s pachyderm population, of about 1600 odd, is on the run due to rapid depletion of the habitats and literal disappearance of the corridors, the officers at the top, including the DFOs, head towards the state capital for reviews only. Even forest officers with a good wildlife track record have taken refuge in assignments in either sericulture or other such non-wildlife activities in towns for their own convenience.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik heads the Forest Ministry which appears like a reverse-pyramid from everywhere; more crudely it looks a bit headless. The department`s nose-dived official structure has the failures so blatantly manifested in the state capital that there is hardly any need to go to the jungle to see what it requires to do or is doing. As I had earlier pointed out, about 16 chief conservators, more than 35 conservators and an array of DFOs, are mainly holed up in the capital or in the district headquarter towns working from 11.00 am to 5.00 pm and propounding volumes of tenable hypothesis far removed from the ground realities. One wished the Forest Minister could see through the maze of this illusion created by these officers (not all) whose apparent conceits can hardly be missed.

Even those who are in the habit of screaming that the media is cynical, such skeptics in the department too need a mirror.