When I became Minister for Environment and Forests in 1989, I found a man in my Ministry called R.L. Singh whose only job was to count the number of tigers in the tiger reserves. He did this with great ease he sat at his desk, multiplied the number of tigers by 2, subtracted 10 per cent and gave the official figures. I removed him from the Ministry. He went back to Uttar Pradesh, became the Chief Wildlife Warden for 10 long years, harassed every wildlife NGO, ordered the killing of all the wolves, gave licences to all the bear traders and when he retired, he was caught by the Corruption Department with several crore rupees, all of which had been made from animal poachers. All his Ministers were happy with him because he had kept them well supplied as well.
This story has been repeated a thousand times. Every single day in the last 20 years I have tracked the movement of most forest and wildlife officials across India and I can safely say that about 60 per cent are completely corrupt and hand in glove with illegal forest cutters and poachers, 20 per cent are lazy and do no work, 10 per cent do a limited amount of work but will not stretch themselves out to catch anyone and will not learn any new techniques of management and 10 per cent are good but scared of the consequences of what they do so need constant reassurance. Not one forest officer has ever lost his job even when he has been caught redhanded. It is because of this Department that we have lost our forests and our animals. The R.L. Singh’s of the Department are the reason why the Gangetic Dolphin are killed every day and the number of tigers in each tiger reserve is questionable.
Adding to their utter venality and incompetence are the army, both of which regard wild animals are game to be poached and do so regularly. The police do not know the laws and either ignore the selling of crores of live and dead animals in the cities or take a hafta from the sellers. And the wildlife NGOs take public money and use it for painting competitions on saving tigers, writing books on vanishing wildlife and seminars on the same thing. Most of them spend a lot of time going abroad to plead for Indian animals and then do nothing with the funds they get except employ people to do “ policy” research. None of them take up issues with the Government. This leaves every Government the opportunity to put their worst and most incompetent people as Ministers of Environment and they spend their time making money on giving mining licences that destroy swathes of forests. The Ministry is a windfall for them because no one in the Government asks what they do.The bureaucrats in the Ministry are dumped there because no one else wants them and each one goes abroad at least 5 times a year.
Once a large consignment of snakes were caught and handed over to the Delhi zoo for rehabilitation. The wildlife inspectors went at night, took away the snakes and returned them to the poachers.
In this scenario, it is vitally important that the catching of wild animal gangs be taken as a Home Ministry issue and the police and the army be given the responsibility as well. The Ministry for Environment and Forests in each State claim they will act through their wildlife wardens if they get information about poachers. I have given information about specific people and hauls for the last ten years to the Department in Delhi. Not one has been acted on : in fact sometimes it is the opposite. Once a large consignment of snakes were caught and handed over to the Delhi zoo for rehabilitation. The wildlife inspectors went at night, took away the snakes and returned them to the poachers. So now, all of us who are active in the field do the raids ourselves and inform the Department and police only after the people have been caught.
The purpose of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau is to collect intelligence on wildlife crime activities and to give it to enforcement agencies for immediate action; to establish a wildlife crime data bank; to coordinate with their representatives in each State; to work with international organisations and Governments; to develop infrastructure for professional investigation; to advise the Government on changing policies and laws.
The States were asked to set up a Bureau as well. Delhi has responded by simply getting a low level policeman to sit in on the meetings of the Wildlife Department as coordinator. Even though they got a huge tipoff about a gang that is selling thousands of dead wild animals and sending them through the couriers all over Indiaand abroad, they did nothing about it. NGOs Wildlife SOS and People for Animals had to step in to conduct the raids outside Delhi. The ones in Delhi have not been done.
No effort has been made to involve the army in enforcing anti poaching laws. In fact army officers regularly hunt animals themselves and the whole machinery swings into action to protect themselves everytime an officer is caught. One of the proposals announced by the Ministry was to invest soldiers with the power to arrest poachers, and even open fire if they evade arrest very important in border areas. No action.
The Bureau is dead on the ground. It will never be set up. At best it will be a meeting place for a few officers from different departments who will charge their TA and DA and go to see wildlife crime in Goa regularly, with their families. In the meantime thousands of peacock feathers are sold openly on the street, five elephants are killed every month, Indian poachers use the internet openly to advertise everything from monitor lizard skins to hammerhead sharks, leopards and ivory. Tiger and otter skins are caught every week, shahtoosh shawls are taken in suitcases and sold abroad, butterflies go through the general post offices in parcels.
The lean, mean wildlife organisation envisaged by Sunita Narain in a report presented to PM Manmohan Singh several years ago, comprising young volunteers to track crime, manage databases and follow thorough investigation on the pattern of the narcotics bureau was never et up by this Ministry or the Government. Experts recommended setting up of a multi-agency unit, staffed with 285 persons and with a budget of Rs 163 crore spread over five years. But what’s the point of recommendations if they are not implemented?