By Jagdish Bhatt
Dehradun : Even as Doonites welcomed the New Year to the ringing of bells and strains of ‘auld lang syne’, the rich wildlife that throngs the forests in and around the Doon Valley, which could create a tourism circuit in its own right, was at the receiving end.
The Uttarakhand Forest Department was keen to cater to the needs of the babudom and their cronies even as they closed their eyes to the animals in the forests.
While poachers are known to have had a field day on New Year’s Day as the forest and wildlife staff employed to contain poaching, were busy catering to the needs of the large number of people that revel in the various guest houses located at the heart of lush forests in Uttarakhand, the crackling of bonfires and vehicles criss-crossing in the forest roads with search lights to have a glimpse of the wild life keep the animals at their nerves end.
According to sources in the state forest department, all the 55 forest rest houses in Uttarakhand were booked for the New Year’s eve.
The occupants were mostly rich and powerful, with most of them being close to the political and bureaucratic bigwigs in the state.
In fact, it was only at the behest of the power lobby that one could get a reservation for the guest houses in the forests, so great was the demand.
In fact, it was not only the forest rest houses that were full, but the large number of resorts that have come up in the peripheries of the national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and forest areas, most of them owned by influential people, including a minister in the Vijay Bahuguna government, were also packed to capacity to herald in the New Year.
There are reports that some stayed at the hotels in nearby areas, enjoyed themselves in the forests, courtesy some of the state and moved out in the wee hours.
Unfortunately while there is a hue and cry to save the flora and fauna with environmentalists and wildlife lovers doing their utmost for the cause, but as far as the Uttarakhand government and the state bureaucracy is concerned, the wildlife and forests are very low on the priority list.
At least this is the message that one gets taking into consideration the rampant encroachment and felling of forests and death of wild animals in the state.
Going by reports, 2013 was a rather mean year for the wildlife in the state. At the very beginning of the year three elephants were run over by a train in the Rajaji Park, despite the fact that the issue of wildlife being disturbed and the risk of animals being run over has been taken up time and again by the wildlife lovers with both the state forest department and the Railways.
The railway tracks run through a major portion of the Rajaji Park and wildlife lovers have appealed that the train speeds be kept down while the trains cross the Park area so that there is less disturbance to the wildlife, but apparently there are no takers for this as far as the people manning the trains are concerned. Interestingly the Rajaji Park has a large strength of pachyderms, who have been confined to the forest pocket because of encroachments in the forest pockets that served as migration corridors.
Besides the three pachyderms that were run over by the train, a female 20-year-old was electrocuted to death and two baby elephants also met an untimely death, taking the number of wild elephants killed in the state to over 20.
Then there have been the reported killing of about 12 tigers by poachers and about 80 panthers having been killed in various parts of the state. While some of the panthers were killed due to the man-animal conflict others fell to smugglers of skins and feline organ parts.
And this does not include the number of herbivores that are killed for the pot by the villagers living in the immediate periphery of forests and also poachers who are also known to sell the venison and flesh of the wild animals.
To curb the menace of poaching the head of the anti-poaching cell, S K Dutta claims that he has no wherewithal to tackle the problem. More....