Wish I was a tiger

BY Padmaja Shaw| IN Media Practice | 21/07/2012
Is NDTV trading its role as an independent media organization by plugging into the state's own agenda for legitimacy?
How about a media campaign for the rights of marginalised humans, asks PADMAJA SHAW
In the midst of a week full of sensational events like the Guwahati molestation case, there was something rather ‘cool’ brewing on NDTV – the ‘Save the Tiger Campaign’. It was a 12-hour telethon on Sunday, 15 July. It fielded Prannoy Roy, AmitabhBachchan and several senior NDTV journalists, Chief Ministers of states, policy makers and forest bureaucracy and officials.
During the course of the programme, they were also trying to raise funds for the campaign. It was unlike regular programming. Leisurely in its pace and attempting to entertain through interesting anecdotes,bits of information, and coverage from various states with the main team located at Ranthambore. The show was mounted professionally and inspired a lot of trust. Many friends and colleagues were cheering the fundraising effort with all the good will, since who would not want to make common cause with the national animal, the tiger?
But, even as one was watching with admiration, a visit to the website of the campaign was inevitable. What one saw there was dismaying. It listed two brief points as principal communication to Chief Ministers:
- Enhancing protection for these forests not only consolidates the ecological and economic foundation of the state, but would also prevent insurrectionists and terrorists, who are in league with the illegal timber and wildlife trade, from stealing forest wealth, which they are using to buy arms and ammunition and to sustain their cadres engaged in anti-national activities. (Emphasis added)
- It is possible to offer guaranteed employment to all adults living in communities immediately surrounding tiger forests.
The objectives of the campaign, so barely stated, somehow appear to plug into the state’s political agenda of “clear, hold and build”, replacing Salwa Judum with forest bureaucracy and tigers (which may or may not be really saved in the end) as a counter-insurgency strategy. Though the programme provided a good deal of information on the ecological value of preserving wild-life, particularly the tiger, is the channel trading its role as an independent media organization by plugging into the state’s own agenda for legitimacy?
There are of course other objectives listed for the campaign on the website:
· Protect the Protectors: Fill forest Guard vacancies within six months. Give forest guards better working conditions, the best leadership, equipment and training and restore foot patrols.
ï‚· Consolidate Tiger Reserves: Notify buffer zones, protect corridors, stop large scale construction, mining, and damaging projects in and around tiger reserves, divert new highway alignments away from core/critical tiger habitats and restrict traffic from dusk to dawn in existing ones.
ï‚· Resettle Villages from core/critical tiger habitats: This should be quick, fair and voluntary.
ï‚· Compensate livestock deaths quickly: Work with NTCA-recommended independent NGOs to certify eligibility. Make quick and fair payments to prevent poisoning of carcases.
ï‚· Crackdown on poaching: Follow up tight patrolling with speedy convictions and levy punative spot fines and seize vehicles of offenders.
ï‚·Declare tiger reserve buffers as Green Economic Zones (GEZ): All adults living OUTSIDE, within 10 sq km of critical and core critical tiger habitats to be offered livelihoods based on the restoration of the habitat.
None of the objectives are really objectionable in themselves. But an objective like “Resettle villages from core/critical tiger habitats” which should be “quick, fair and voluntary”, does not bode well for the forest communities, who are already subjected to displacement for one reason or another like large dams, national highways, mining and what have you. And is there any evidence of any displacement oftribal communities in India that has been “fair?” It may have been quick, but fair? Green Economic Zones? For whom?
During the show, Mr Bachchan quite earnestly asked the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister about the rehabilitation and settlement of the displaced tribal communities. Showing that it is no different this time around.
The objectives here seem to push for handing over the forest resources to a “strengthened” forest bureaucracy and to keep the people who have a stake in protecting the forests out of the scheme of things.
Dr Rajesh Gopal, National Tiger Conservation Authority, also repeatedly asserted the need to relocate people from areas “voluntarily” to create “inviolate spaces”. He also speaks of creating legally protected corridors across state borders and to translocate the tigers to newer areas along the forest belt running through India so that the animals are free to roam across borders.
This is wonderful for the tigers, especially when one thinks of the innumerable instances lately of displaced tribals picked up and put in jails, their hutments burnt down, when they cross state borders seeking safe places to live. It is also amazing how Dr Gopal said that Satyamangalam forest was going to be declared a tiger reserve soon when on the ground there have been protests by potential victims of displacement opposing the idea  Incidentally, the tiger population seems to have gone up in Satyamangalam as of now without the area being declared a reserve forest.
The objectives also talk of “All adults living OUTSIDE, within 10 sq km of critical and core critical tiger habitats to be offered livelihoods based on the restoration of the habitat.” Someone on the show I think explained that the employment envisaged is that of tour guides for safaris etc. The displaced persons are citizens of this country and they may also have a view about how they wish to live their lives. Strange as it may seem, they may not want to spend their lives showing the rest of us how tigers are breeding well in their vacated villages.
Giving the benefit of doubt to the channel in pursuing this wonderful environmental campaign (“if tigers are not there, we will not be there either”), one also wonders at the economics of the 12-hour telethon campaign. What was the advertising revenue and Aircel sponsorship revenue earned by the channel from the telethon? The donations raised through the show amounted to some 5.81 crore rupees.
According to Dr Rajesh Gopal, NTCA, Rs 27,000 crore is made available for the project by the government of India. Just the interest on the amount is Rs 5000 crore. The need for the rupees 5 crore raised by the channel in this context is debatable as the NTCA programme appears to be funded heavily and not enough has been spent so far. Of course, any donation to any aspect of the programme is welcome, and the programme certainly created awareness about the importance of tigers for the ecology of the country. It provided important information about poaching, need for greater vigilance to protect the animal, need for speedy trials and punishments.
I am sincerely hoping and waiting for some media campaign to bestow on marginalised human beings the constitutional status of national people (like the tiger, the national animal) and make an elaborate plan to protect their habitat and to ensure their freedom to move across locations to find livelihood and liberty at least, in the absence of food, water, shelter and schooling.
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