BY SAMHITA BAROOAH
This year the world celebrated yet another World Environment Day on June 5, 2016. The theme this year was ‘Zero Tolerance for the Illegal Wildlife Trade’. Wildlife is either outside our radar in today’s concrete jungle or it is an exclusive space which becomes inaccessible to many and comes as a package deal for those who can afford to go wild. Wildlife includes both flora and fauna not only the animals and birds but it also includes their habitats.
Human needs are soaring upwards into a limitless sky which is threatening the habitats all other non-human beings sharing the same habitats. I was wondering how we can save wildlife without its habitat when our timber trade is being legalised through the digital route. At one side the office of the Chief Conservator of Forests in Assam is shifted to Kaziranga and at the same time the sale of timber is done through the “e” route. Such dichotomies can rob off the entire ecosystem of Kaziranga. Digital world has its own wonders but trading natural spaces, wildlife and trees through the digital route is uncalled for. Assam is already reeling under the heavy burden of one-horned rhino horn trade from Kaziranga and now trading timber through the digital route seems like a complete market clutch over natural spaces.
Zero Tolerance has an ambiguous connotation. Whether it means protectionist militarisation of wildlife sanctuaries, national parks or any natural habitat or does it have to do with legal sanctions and strictures which immobilises any human activity within the periphery of the wildlife sanctuary. Like animals, human beings also need their natural habitats for all practical purposes. But in recent years we can see how the natural environment is shrinking drastically in the name of development which is actually industrial assertion, capitalist extraction of resources and illusive craving for economic growth. Such development is breeding industrialisation of environmental resources which includes rivers, flood plains, forests, farmlands, tree covers, streams, lakes, grazing lands, hill tracts, mountains, oceans and any such natural ecosystem. In the name of protection, rampant illegal trade of wildlife resources like Ginseng, Wild Orchids, Wild Animals and Birds, Animal body parts, minerals, precious stones, natural gas, groundwater is traded internationally from across the world for money, fame, prestige and power.
Environmental agencies and wildlife protection groups are conscious of such degradation and they are routing their struggles through campaigns, awareness drive and consciousness rising for future generations through schools, educational institutions, people’s support groups and community based agencies. But somehow such efforts are disconnecting people in power and those people whose lives are ruled by the powerful. Every year planting a tree, cycling, cleaning the garbage, wearing a cap to mark June 5 cannot regenerate the earth when the structural support is against the right to environmental regeneration. As human being we are selfish and we only think about our well-being, so in the effort to regenerate and develop a green economy we plant only those tree which will bring money back to us. Zero tolerance can be equated to environmentally insensitive and extractive planning, decision-making and programme implementation also. All trade legal or illegal which engages in loss of habitats for human, non-humans, flora and fauna needs to be reconsidered from a different perspective. Every ecosystem community needs to be supported, remunerated and restored for retaining the natural spaces and regenerating them in the best possible way which they have been doing ancestrally. Displacing communities from their habitats is also a form of illegal trade of natural resources which will have horrendous implications on the human population in coming years. For the elite, urban, and middle class, wildlife is a vacation destination, adventure sport, weight loss plan, business deal and some look at it as health and well-being commodity.
For rural communities, nature dependent communities, wildlife habitats become their source of livelihood, identity, territorial space and even a conflict ground. Neither of the groups ever considers that habitat loss is making them extinct. Without a balanced environment with natural regeneration and food chain everybody is endangered. Every group competes with the other.
If a multinational company is extracting minerals, oil, groundwater and timber, then the people’s collectives make noise and if common people trade in wildlife for a meal, farm, family and health needs then the people become polluters. Our country and particularly the Northeastern states have been reeling in this battle between the elite and the excluded sections of society where nature has endured maximum onslaught. Hope that people across class, caste, gender, ethnicity, race, disability, religion and age can reclaim their right to environmental regeneration which is also a third generation human right.