by Bittu Sahgal
I have been making calls across the country to establish whether or not the forest authorities are aware of the way in which insurgents, separatists and insurrectionists of all descriptions are using unprotected forest wealth to finance their anti-national activities. I was alarmed to discover that forest officers in most states, including Assam, Manipur, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Maharashtra ARE aware of this truth, but believe that other departments should be handling this issue as their jurisdiction does not extend beyond the areas in their charge.
There is a lot of truth in what they say, but in light of the kind of mayhem that was unleashed upon us in Mumbai recently at the hands of just ten terrorists, surely this systemic flaw in our country's administration should be plugged? By some accounts the revolving door between the illegal trades in narcotics, arms and wildlife could be offering anything in excess of Rs. 500 crores per annum to the purveyors of violence. If this terror supply-tap is not switched off, no amount of hand wringing, or television advice from experts is going to help India.
The root cause of the problem is the low priority extended to wildlife and forest protection by economists whose advice is gospel for both politicians and bureaucrats. We therefore end up with a situation where thousands of crores of rupees worth of standing timber, and all the mineral and wildlife wealth contained therein, is left in the charge of a miserably funded, poorly equipped and apathetic field force. When I wrote of these connections in 1999 in Sanctuary, I was invited to speak at the National Defence College and other official fora for a period of a few months. Then all was forgotten. I hope this is not going to be the fate of the recent impetus to shore our defence against terrorism this time too.