No report that jumbo population has decreased (Bhubaneswar, India)


Q & A with  Sugyan Choudhury, Daily Pioneer

Date Published
He discovers heaven in the wildlife and extends them a cover of overwhelming security by maintaining a strict vigil and surveillance under his Nelson eyes through an elaborate system of arrangements. An IFS officer of the 1982 batch, Siddhanta Das had a number of assignments to his credit in his chequered career as Member Secretary, State Pollution Control Board, Executive Director, Odisha State Disaster Mitigation Authority (OSDMA), Managing Director, Odisha Forest Development Corporation, Chief Conservator of Forests, Bhubaneswar Circle, Project Director, World Food Programme, Bhubaneswar and Professor, Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy, Dehradun. Having climbed the hierarchical ladder, presently he is posted as Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife)-cum-Chief Wildlife Warden of the State. A calm and collected man of few words, his plans and programmes, agenda and actions on the preservation and protection of wildlife, its flora and fauna, are more eloquent  than the unusual reticence he wears on his face. In an interview to The Pioneer, Das spoke to Sugyan Choudhury on many wide-ranging problems and issues concerning the wild life.

It is reported that the population of elephants is on the wane. What steps are there in your agenda for increasing their number?

The elephant population in the State which was 1,930 in the year 2012 went up to 1,954 in 2015, and there is no report that the population has decreased thereafter. Our objective is just not to increase their number but to maintain a sustainable population consistent with the carrying capacity of the habitats available to them. Rather, our priority is more on resolving man-elephant conflicts, to minimise casualty of elephants on one hand and protect lives and property of local people on the other.  There are several reasons responsible for the increasing man-elephant conflict such as restriction in movement of elephants due to fragmentation of their habitats and corridors, change in food habit (the elephants are switching over to agricultural crops from fodder in the wild), water stress and food shortage inside forests and so on, which we are addressing in a systematic manner.

It is alleged that the State Government has not maintained the eco-sensitive zones as per the guidelines of the Supreme Court. What is your response to this?

The Government notifies the Protected Areas (PAs) like Sanctuaries and National Parks under the Wildlife (Protection) Act. The Indian Board for Wildlife in its meeting on January 21, 2002 proposed to notify land falling within 10 km of the boundaries of the PAs as eco-fragile zones under the Environment (Protection) Act. In a PIL filed by the Goa Foundation in 2004, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in December 2006 directed the State Governments to submit proposals to the Government of India to declare Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs) around the PAs. Till such notification, a 10-km-wide ring may be maintained as an ESZ.  Proposals for declaration of ESZs for the PAs in Odisha have been submitted to the UJnion Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change.  So far, three ESZs have been finally notified while a draft notification has been issued for five more and the rest are in the process of notification.

The boundary line of each reserve under the Chandaka and Dampada zones like Bharatpur are covered at the top by iron wires and nails. If the trunks of the elephants come in accidental contact, that will ultimately injure the animal leading to its death. What remedial measures are you taking in this regard?

The name of the sanctuary is Chandaka-Dampada Wildlife Sanctuary.  A portion of the sanctuary comprising the Bharatpur Reserve Forest and the Jagannathprasad Protected Forests is almost surrounded by the capital city of Bhubaneswar. To protect the wildlife and their habitats from human interference, we are in the process of providing fencing, which includes construction of a 10[-feet-high masonry wall with concertina wire loop at the top.  It is highly unlikely that an elephant would even get injured by the concertina wire.

It is alleged that trawlers are entering into forbidden seawaters near Bhitarkanika causing injuries to the Olive Ridley turtle species. How do you think to arrest these unlawful activities?

Fishing is prohibited in certain areas inside sea during the turtle nesting season. And fishing is completely restricted throughout the year in the Gahiramatha Marine Sanctuary, which extends 20 km into the sea. For restricting fishing by trawlers in the prohibited zones in addition to patrolling in these areas, we solicit cooperation of Coast Guards, police and the Fisheries Department. Recently, we have acquired high-speed sophisticated marine vessels to enhance our efficiency. In spite of this, some trawlers try to fish in restricted areas, and we try to apprehend the offenders and book cases against them. This year so far, we have seized 29 trawlers and arrested 184 offenders.

What are the protective measures you are going to take for our distinguished visiting guest birds from Siberia to Chilika?

This year, 9.5 lakh birds belonging to 167 species were counted in Chilika, which is significantly higher than previous years. Chilika is a safe haven for birds as they get an undisturbed habitat, sufficient food and little threat of poaching.  The Forest Department takes a slew of measures for protection of the birds and their habitats. Participation of communities in providing a safe environment to the birds is commendable.

It is further alleged that 100-feet roads are to run near the Eco Sensitive Zones. Forestlands are leased out for industrial purposes. How do you react to all this?

As I mentioned earlier, an Eco Sensitive Zone is a ring of land around a Protected Area. Certain activities in this zone are permitted and are free from any environmental regulation. Certain activities are prohibited and certain activities are regulated by prescribing certain norms for their execution while according Environmental Clearance under the Environment Protection Act.

What are the various sections of forest law in force to punish the offenders inflicting cruelty to animals?

Cruelty to animals is dealt under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, a Central Act, which is normally implemented as per advice and guidelines laid down by the Animal Welfare Board by the district administrations.

Are there any good news in the New Year about Prince Nandan, Princess Sarah and Princess Megha of Nanadankanan? Has the family feud between Megha and Sarah ended?

Nandan is a wild tiger which jumped into captivity in 2013. He mated with the zoo-bred tigress Megha and two cubs were born in April 2016.  Sarah is a wild tigress brought from Bhopal to the Nanadankanan.  Sarah has given birth to three cubs after mating with the zoo-bred tiger Rishi.