Tuesday, December 23, 2008
This image from Aditya won the 3rd prize in the Sanctuary Wildlife Photography contest 2008
The Story behind the winning picture - Aditya Laghate
Dark grey clouds were looming over the forest. It was pin drop silent! We entered the Bandhavgad Tiger Reserve with no hope. As we drove slowly on the assigned route, we stopped the gypsy only once to show my campers, 3 Grey Hornbills on a distant tree top. Hope of seeing anything was at a record low! Two small kids with me fell asleep, two uncles & my younger brother were stiff bored. No wind, no bird call, nothing!!
Slowly our gypsy rolled down the slope from where we approached the Rajbehera Meadow. As we came close, we saw a Jackal jumping at the edge on the road near the grass. A sudden rush of excitement to see something in a dead forest, took out our binoculars and examined the area. Our hearts started pounding hard by what we saw. The Jackals had managed to isolate a Spotted Deer Fawn from the heard and were about to make the hunt. On the far edge we saw another Jackal walking towards the fawn. We waited with bated breath wondering what will happen next.
As we were watching in front, our guide softly said, "Tiger..." and we turned around to see the huge Rajbehera male appear from the nala. It was double excitement! I was wondering will the tiger come towards the fawn and the jackal, what will happen when the three confront each other! But as I again turned around to see what was happening with our Jackal and Deer, the Jackal had done the vanishing act! But the fawn was still there standing in a paralysed state.
The Tiger, a fully fed male, with still traces of blood on his face and limbs walked slowly in the meadow and approached a deer herd standing at a distance. The herd, on seeing the tiger ran away. The tiger then started waking towards the gypsy. The tiger was not aware of the deer fawn standing near us, as it was completely hidden by the dry grass.
As the tiger approached us, it saw the deer fawn and ran to capture it. What ensured in front of us was a rare chance of seeing a tiger on the hunt!
During this entire episode,there were only three vehicles at the meadow. One was ours and two of them were van rented by a television crew, claimed to be from Discovery Channel by the guide and driver. One of the vehicles had the filiming crew and the other was the pilot vehicle. The two television vehicles were at the far end of the meadow and had not seen or realised abt the tiger coming out in the meadow. On seeing the herd of Spotted Deer running out the meadow, they realised that the Tiger was on the scene.
The television crew it seems were waiting for two or three days to film this huge male, but were not getting a chance. The pilot gypsy, seen in the picture, was rushing at the scene un-aware of the drama un-folding there. They wanted to stop the tiger from getting into the thicket on the other side of the road. As the vehicle approached us, visual signals from us were not good enough for them to stop. In the photo it can be seen how the tiger was distracted by a moving vehicle, which just managed to screech to a halt!
The photo is a visual proof of how tourism is adding pressure on the forest inhabitants. I would have loved to take this story to the forest officials, but due to inadequate proof, I cannot support all my claims.
I will sum up the entire episode as Sanctuary Asia puts it, "There was no cruelty involved*. In the Jungle, the law is simple - eat or be eaten"
* I add, on part of the animals - no, but on part of the tourists - yes!
Sunday, December 14, 2008
They want forensic experts to identify the killer liquid and also find out how it reached them.
The Onges knew the difference between alcohol and other chemicals, says the director, Anthropological Survey of India, so they couldn't have had the killer liquid by mistake.
"The Onges, as we understand, are not that primitive. They can speak Hindi; some can even speak English. And they are able to distinguish what is alcohol, what is petrol, what is diesel. We need to understand, we need to know the facts," said VR Rao, Director-In-Charge, Anthropological Survey of India.
"Andaman and Nicobar Islands host four primitive tribes -- the Onges who now number 93, the Jarwas who number 320, the Shompens who number 382 and the Sentinelese, an estimated 100 to 150 -- who have virtually no contact with civilization," said Merriam Ros, Survivors International, NGO.
A Jarwa male was shot dead by poachers recently. The Andaman Grand Trunk Road or ATR that runs through their settlement is also considered a threat.
"As anthropologists we always feel that ATR construction has in fact disturbed the local tribal life. In that way, we say ATR should be closed," Rao said.
For thousands of years the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have sheltered the primitive tribes. But the islands are clearly no longer safe havens against extinction.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
The first time – as an undergraduate student in 2002 – when I heard the epithet "city of flyovers" being used by government officials to describe Delhi’s growth aspirations, I laughed it off. I credited the uninspiring and dull description of my city to our bureaucrats and their political bosses. But six years on as I see that vision turning into reality – Delhi since then either has or is building close to 80 flyovers – I have frightfully realised how revealing that epithet is of our model of development and how harmful it has been for a vast majority of us.
It tells us the story of an India that skirts problems rather than find sustainable solutions for them in pursuit of rapid development. Of how the country has opted for quick-fix solutions that benefit a few in the short-run but end up being problems for most in the long-run. This has led to a model of urban planning that has largely pre-empted the majority of the city’s population from developing any stakes in Delhi’s well-being. This is equally true of any other Indian city.
Photo courtesy: delhitourism.nic.in
The government may have now gone ahead with the gradual introduction of low-floor buses but it is too late. Cars and two wheelers have already taken over our roads. Jams are inevitable given the vehicular growth and irrespective of the number of flyovers built. A Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) survey found that while private vehicles account for 67.6% of the vehicles in India and occupy 67.1% of the road width, they carry only 37% of the commuters. Buses, on the other hand, make up 24.4% of the vehicles and occupy 38% of the roads. They, however, carry 61% of the commuters. Likewise, blueprints of rotary mode separators, with traffic separation at distinct vertical axes and designed around the comfort of pedestrians, have not been looked at as an alternative to flyovers by the Delhi government.
So, to enable these private vehicles to run smoothly the government has been on a road-expansion and flyover-building spree. That has pushed the majority among us – pedestrians and slow-moving transport such as rickshaws – off the roads. We cannot walk on them anymore. Pedestrians now are sent either overground or underground to make way for speeding traffic. It doesn’t matter if you have to walk nearly a kilometre just to reach the nearest underpass to get to the other side. Or if you are left wondering how to walk to your destination at major flyovers such as the one at AIIMS or Dhaula Kuan. Asinine planning like this means that people forcibly risk their lives daily as they take the easiest route by leaping across road dividers to cross over.
Why can’t traffic moving in the heart of the city stop to make way for pedestrians? Probably because the few who benefit the most wish no roadblocks as they hurtle away to superpowerdom, just the way India develops rapidly without any concern for the damage inflicted on either the marginalised majority or the environment.
Encroachment of public space in our cities for promoting private interests is also worryingly picking up. Urban public art – so important to cultivate a sense of belonging to a city – has been used for other interests.
|Photo courtesy: Debarshi Dasgupta|
Recently put up at the AIIMS flyover, "Sprouts", an urban art installation made with steel from Jindal, is less of art and more of avarice. To be fair, its dubious artistic merit may be defended by some. But what is certain is that the Delhi Urban Arts Commission – a public body meant to vet urban art – was never consulted before the installation of Sprouts. Why should a public artwork, aimed at celebrating the "arrival of a new India", be put up so undemocratically? Why should scarce green space – used by people to lounge about freely – be pulled down to make way for more steel? And that too if it is was built at a cost of around Rs 4 crore and will be maintained for Rs 1.5 lakh each month.
Even the newly designed bus stops – made again with steel from Jindal – are of little public convenience. They can’t seat more than ten at a time. This in a city of over 14 million where the average waiting period for a bus is at least 10 minutes. And if it happens to be in summer, tough luck! Even an empty spot is of no use, lest you are willing to scald your posterior on the burning steel in Delhi’s 45 degree Celsius heat. Comparatively, the earlier blue cement bus stops offered more shade – thereby being cooler – and had seating for more than 50.
Photo courtesy: Debarshi Dasgupta
Unfortunately, what they didn’t have was space for advertisements. So while the new bus stops are more like billboards with nearly all of the display area dedicated to advertisements, nobody has thought of a map marking the various bus routes telling commuters which bus to take to get where. That makes one wonder if Delhi’s bus stops are really meant for the people or are simply developed as revenue generators for the government.
Likewise, the 2010 Commonwealth Games, which should have served as an occasion to marshal public involvement in developing the city, has been reduced pretty much to a private-limited exercise. The games village being build on the banks of the Yamuna is a glorious example of that. The government cares two hoots and has utter indignation about opposition from environmentalists who have been alerting us to the perils of building on the banks of the Yamuna. Even the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute warned against any permanent construction on the riverbed in 2005. That it later changed its position, arguing the construction of Akshardham temple nearby had removed the risk of flooding, leaves us very little guesswork to do.
From the activity on at the site, it would seem all is well but the status of the games village is still unclear as the Delhi High Court is yet to rule whether it should stand there or not. It has appointed another committee to inquire and examine. The tactic is simple: hem and haw till it is too late and then use the India’s-prestige-is-at-stake argument to steamroll all opposition.You would have to be demented at the least to believe that if the village, if found to be genuinely harmful to the Yamuna riverbed in a year’s time from now, would be relocated! Meanwhile, having acquired land at cheap rates (whether riverbed can be termed as land is another matter of dispute), the real estate developers of the Commonwealth Games village are already advertising and unabashedly soliciting buyers for the flats being built for the athletes. One only hopes the promise made by the government in the bid document of using part of the games village as a students’ residence is adhered to.
The signs are ominous. Rather than a legacy that we all can be proud of, the games are likely to bequeath little more than a few richer corrupt officials at Delhi Development Authority, the real estate developer of the village who would have made a killing by selling horrendously expensive apartments, and the rich who will be able to pay for them and live there.
I want to be part of this city’s growth but it is being developed rapidly in a manner that doesn’t involve public concern or encourage public involvement. Most people are too busy surviving and paying the cost for such short-sightedness. As much as we would like to believe in the spiel of Delhi being a "global city", the truth is starkly the opposite. The way things are today in 2008, Delhi seems more like a medieval fiefdom of the privileged few.
Postscript: The Supreme Court on December 5 stayed Delhi High Court orders stalling constructions in the upcoming Commonwealth Games Village
Friday, December 12, 2008
THE DAILY TELEGRAMS, December 12, 2008
15 Onges to go back to settlement today
Port Blair, Dec 11
sixteen Onges were evacuated and airlifted by helicopter from Dugong Creek and admitted in GB Pant Hospital recently as all displayed signs of severe poisoning. The A & N Administration did not leave any stone unturned to ensure that the Onges were given prompt treatment. Unfortunately, one Onge, whose condition was very serious, expired in the early hours of yesterday morning. The other fifteen Onges are responding well and are now considered fit to be discharged from GB Pant Hospital. Accordingly, they will be discharged from GB Pant Hospital tomorrow to go back to their settlement in Dugong Creek, Little Andaman. It is learnt from the hospital authorities that these 15 Onges will get the speed boat tomorrow morning to go to their homes, informed the Secretary, Tribal Welfare, Smt SKP Sodhi here today.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Andaman Chronicle: Dec. 11, 2008
8 Members of Onge Tribe Die After Consuming Mysterious Liquid In
Port Blair, Dec. 10: Eight members of Onge tribe died while 15 have
been admitted in G.B. Pant Hospital, Port Blair after consuming
mysterious liquid on 7th Dec. 2008. The mysterious liquid filled in a
plastic can was found by the Onge members at the beach side in Dugong
Creek. Mistaking it to be alcohol, a group of 23 tribesmen consumed
it late in the evening hours on 7th Dec.
Soon after consuming the toxic liquid, 5 died on the spot while 2
died when they were being evacuated on 9th Dec. 2008. According to
the latest reports, out of 16 members flown to Port Blair, one could
not survive even after reaching G.B. Pant Hospital and the condition
of another patient is critical. He is presently admitted in the
Intensive Care Unit.
The names of 14 surviving members admitted in Medical Surgical Ward 2
of G.B. Pant are: Tana Guru 55 yrs, Thai 55 yrs, Bellai 50 yrs,
Suresh 25 yrs, Prashant 18 yrs, Jain 28 yrs, Dilip 8 yrs, Mohan Lall
50 yrs, Chogagoe 46 yrs, Bharat 12 yrs, Sani 15 yrs, Santosh 28 yrs,
Rakesh 26 yrs and Tata Nagi 55 yrs. It is learnt that Tata Nagi 55
is suffering from vision problem since the time of the incident.
Lt. Governor orders inquiry into the death of Onge tribe: The Lt.
Governor, Lt. General (Retd.) Bhopinder Singh, PVSM, AVSM accompanied
by the Chief Secretary, Shri Vivek Rae, Director General of Police,
Shri Ranjit Narayan and senior officers of the A&N Administration
today visited the Onge settlement of Dugong Creek in Little Andaman
and had first hand information on the incident of death of the Onge
tribal. The poisonous liquid has been sent for chemical analysis.
The Lt. Governor discussed the issue with senior officers and ordered
an inquiry into the incident. Soon after returning to Port Blair
today, the Lt. Governor visited G. B. Pant Hospital and interacted
with the Onge patients who are recuperating in the hospital. He
further directed all the concerned authorities to enforce strict
measures for ensuring the safety and security of all the tribal
people in the Islands so that such incidents do not take place in
Later, a meeting was held under the Chairmanship of the Lt. Governor
at Raj Niwas in which various issues pertaining to the welfare of the
tribal population and measures to be taken for protecting the
primitive tribe from such incidents in future were discussed.
The Lt. Governor has issued instructions to the Police authorities to
ensure strict compliance of convoy system on the ATR and emphasized
that any violation of the convoy system be dealt with strictly by
them. Measures to close the ATR to the tourists in the near future to
protect the primitive Jarawa tribe were also discussed.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
9 Dec 2008, 1430 hrs IST, PTI
http://timesofindia .indiatimes. com/Pollution/ Andaman_tribesme n_die_of_ toxic_drink/ articleshow/ 3813023.cms
PORT BLAIR: Five Onge aboriginal tribesmen, whose population has been
dwindling, died and 15 others took ill after consuming a toxic chemical at
Dugong Creek of Little Andaman island of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
"Onge tribals have drunk the chemical mistaking it to be alcohol last
night from a plastic can that had got washed ashore from the Bay of
Bengal at Dugong Creek," said South Andaman district SP Ashok Chand.
A medical team led by deputy director R C Kar had gone to the far flung
island, about 125-km south-west of Port Blair, to provide emergency
medical service to the seriously ill tribesmen.
They would be flown to Port Blair for further treatment as the remote
area lacked proper healthcare facility, Chand said.
With the death of five Onge tribesmen, the island's population of the
tribe has come down to 95.
According to official sources the population of Onge tribals, who
numbered 672 in 1901, had dwindled to 100 recently.
Kalpavriksh and Snow Leopard Conservancy-India Trust (Leh) have published a story book for children titled “The Ghost of the Mountains.” The story is based on a true life incident where the life of a snow leopard, an endangered animal, is saved by a young lad in the village of Ang.
Kalpavriksh has been involved (in collaboration with Snow Leopard Conservancy-India Trust) with a locale-specific conservation education programme for children in Ladakh for the past three years. Under the programme localised educational material has been developed, including this story book.
The book has been authored by Sujatha Padmanabhan and illustrated by Madhuvanti Anantharajan
To obtain a copy of the book please contact Anuradha Arjunwadkar at firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, December 8, 2008
Resilience was another word that annoyed the pundits of news channels and their patrons this time. But the same channels celebrated resilience when bombs went off in trains and markets killing and maiming the Aam Aadmis.
GNANI SANKARAN explores the class biases inherent in the media coverage.
Posted Tuesday, Dec 02 22:58:17, 2008
Watching at least four English news channels, surfing from one another during the last 60 hours of terror strike made me feel a terror of another kind, the terror of assaulting one's mind and sensitivity with cameras, sound bites and non-stop blabbers. All these channels have been trying to manufacture my consent for a big lie called - Hotel Taj the icon of
It is a matter of great shame that these channels simply did not bother about the other icon that faced the first attack from terrorists - the Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station. CST is the true icon of Mumbai. It is through this railway station hundreds of Indians from Uttar Pradesh,
But the channels would not recognise this. Nor would they recognise the thirty odd dead bodies strewn all over the platform of CST. No Barkha Dutt went there to tell us who they were. But she was at Taj to show us the damaged furniture and reception lobby braving the guards. And the TV cameras did not go to the government run JJ hospital to find out who those 26 unidentified bodies were. Instead they were again invading the battered Taj to try in vain for a scoop shot of the dead bodies of the page 3 celebrities.
In all probability, the unidentified bodies could be those of workers from
The channels conveniently failed to acknowledge that the Aam Aadmis of India surviving in Mumbai were not affected by Taj, Oberoi and Trident closing down for a couple of weeks or months. What mattered to them was the stoppage of BEST buses and suburban trains even for one hour. But the channels were not covering that aspect of the terror attack. Such information at best merited a scroll line, while the cameras have to be dedicated for real time thriller unfolding at Taj or Nariman Bhavan.
The so called justification for the hype the channels built around heritage site Taj falling down (CST is also a heritage site), is that Hotel Taj is where the rich and the powerful of
It is precisely because Taj is the icon of power and not people that the terrorists chose to strike. The terrorists have understood after several efforts that the Aam Aadmi will never break down even if you bomb her markets and trains. He/she was resilient because that is the only way he/she can even survive.
Resilience was another word that annoyed the pundits of news channels and their patrons this time. What resilience, enough is enough, said Pranoy Roy's channel on the left side of the channel spectrum. Same sentiments were echoed by Arnab Goswami representing the right wing of the broadcast media whose time is now. Can Rajdeep be far behind in this game of one-upmanship over TRPs ? They all attacked resilience this time. They wanted firm action from the government in tackling terror.
The same channels celebrated resilience when bombs went off in trains and markets killing and maiming the Aam Aadmis. The resilience of the ordinary worker suited the rich business class of Mumbai since work or manufacture or film shooting did not stop. When it came to them, the rich shamelessly exhibited their lack of nerves and refused to be resilient themselves. They cry for government intervention now to protect their private spas and swimming pools and bars and restaurants, similar to the way in which Citibank, General Motors and the ilk cry for government money when their coffers are emptied by their own ideologies.
The terrorists have learnt that the ordinary Indian is unperturbed by terror. For one whose daily existence itself is a terror of government sponsored inflation and market sponsored exclusion, pain is something he has learnt to live with. The rich of Mumbai and India Inc are facing the pain for the first time and learning about it just as the middle classes of
And human rights were another favourite issue for the channels to whip at times of terrorism. Arnab Goswami in an animated voice wondered where were those champions of human rights now, not to be seen applauding the brave and selfless police officers who gave up their life in fighting terrorism. Well, the counter question would be where were you when such officers were violating the human rights of Aam Aadmis. Has there ever been any 24 hour non stop coverage of violence against dalits and adivasis of this country?
This definitely was not the time to manufacture consent for the extra legal and third degree methods of interrogation of police and army but Arnabs don't miss a single opportunity to serve their class masters, this time the jingoistic patriotism came in handy to whitewash the entire uniformed services.
The sacrifice of the commandos or the police officers who went down dying at the hands of ruthless terrorists is no doubt heart rending but in vain in a situation which needed not just bran but also brain.
The Kakares and Salaskars would not be dead if they did not commit the mistake of travelling by the same vehicle. It is a basic lesson in management that the top brass should never travel together in crisis. The terrorists, if only they had watched the channels, would have laughed their hearts out when the Chief of the Marine commandos, an elite force, masking his face so unprofessionally in a see-through cloth, told the media that the commandos had no idea about the structure of the Hotel Taj which they were trying to liberate. But the terrorists knew the place thoroughly, he acknowledged.
Is it so difficult to obtain a ground plan of Hotel Taj and discuss operation strategy thoroughly for at least one hour before entering? This is something even an event manager would first ask for, if he had to fix 25 audio systems and 50 CCtvs for a cultural event in a hotel. Would not Ratan Tata have provided a plan of his ancestral hotel to the commandos within one hour considering the mighty apparatus at his and government's disposal? Are satellite pictures only available for terrorists and not the government agencies? In an operation known to consume time, one more hour for preparation would have only improved the efficiency of execution.
Sacrifices become doubly tragic in unprofessional circumstances. But the Aam Aadmis always believe that terror-shooters do better planning than terrorists. And the gullible media in a jingoistic mood would not raise any question about any of these issues. They after all have their favourite whipping boy – the politician the eternal entertainer for the non-voting rich classes of
Arnabs and Rajdeeps would wax eloquent on Nanmohan Singh and Advani visiting Mumbai separately and not together showing solidarity even at this hour of national crisis. What a farce? Why can't these channels pool together all their camera crew and reporters at this time of national calamity and share the sound and visual bites which could mean a wider and deeper coverage of events with such a huge
human resource to command? Why should Arnab and Rajdeep and Barkha keep harping every five minutes that this piece of information was exclusive to their channel, at the time of such a national crisis? Is this the time to promote the channel? If that is valid, the politician promoting his own political constituency is equally valid. And the duty of the politician is to do politics, his politics. It is for the people to evaluate that politics.
And terrorism is not above politics. It is politics by other means. To come to grips with it and to eventually eliminate it, the practice of politics by proper means needs constant fine tuning and improvement. Decrying all politics and politicians, only helps terrorists and dictators who are the two sides of the same coin. And the rich and powerful always prefer terrorists and dictators to do business with.
Those caught in this crossfire are always the Aam Aadmis whose deaths are not even mourned - the taxi driver who lost the entire family at CST firing, the numerous waiters and stewards who lost their lives working in Taj for a monthly salary that would be one time bill for their masters.
Postscript: In a fit of anger and depression, I sent a message to all the channels, 30 hours through the coverage. After all they have been constantly asking the viewers to message them for anything and everything. My message read: I send this with lots of pain. All channels, including yours, must apologise for not covering the victims of CST massacre, the real Mumbaikars and aam aadmis of
Gnani Sankaran is based in Chennai, and has been a journalist for 35 years.