Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

A Million Mutinies: Raising India's Environmental Awareness

Save Oil, Save Future, Chandigarh, India (Nice Logo/Flickr)

Save Oil, Save Future, Chandigarh, India (Nice Logo/Flickr)

Question from the Audience

You mentioned that the environmental movement in India compared to the north is more developmental than conservation-oriented. I was wondering if the government of India is creating any national parts kind of on the American model which is conservation model. And if they've done that what the environmental movement thinks.

Sunita Narain

That's a very good question. Yes, they have. I mean, we follow very much the American model in terms of wildlife management. And what we have done is create wildlife reserves. About 3% of India's total land area is today marked for wildlife reserves. Our forest land area is about 19%-20% under ownership of the forest department. And our land for common lands, which is for all grazing -- just to give you a comparative figures-- is about 5%. So 3% of India's land is national parks and science, as we call it.

The big issue really is that we fail to understand that in India our forests are really not wilderness areas. In the US, you often call forest areas wilderness because it is true. They are wilderness areas. But in our part of the world, they're habitats. That's where people live. And people co-exist with animals and therefore the strategy that we've been left to adopt in such a densely populated country like India will not be the exclusion of the people but really the inclusion ofpeople. And we haven't done that. And it's led to huge conflicts. One of the biggest problems today in India is poaching. And poaching takes place because the poachers are greater friends of the local communities than the forest department. I'm sure all of all you have heard of Veerapan, the sandalwood smuggler who just kidnapped the film star. It was a big issue and big issue in south. This has paralyzed Bangalore which is the Tech capital of the world.

Sunita Narain

Absolutely. But you have to understand that Veerapan is the creation of a law because sandalwood has been nationalized by the government. If you area poor farmer and you have sandalwood trees growing on your farm -- and sandalwood grows like a weed in those parts of India -- if you had a sandalwood tree, you would just pluck it out and throw it away. Because you don't want it growing there. Because the minute it grows up, you get a forest, but it's a national tree. It belongs to the government.You have to go and register it with the government. They come out and mark out where the tree is growing in relation to your house or to something else. And God forbid--if that tree dies, you've had it. We have a friend who has a crocodile farm and we don't allow crocodile skin trade--crocodiles are endangered in India. And he talks about the fact that he has to eat a croc-egg omelet a day. Because the minute they get born, they get endangered. And yet, they breed like rabbits.

And,so the big issue in India is how do you bring that sort of uilitarian ethic that I talked about into government policy. And this is why I said that policy and protest still is not coming together. And that's sort of the challenge for all of us living in India. How do you influence the political system so that the protest -- which is outside the doors -- becomes the policy. We've written a lot about it. You can actually find a lot on it on our website.