Eighth CSE Media Fellowship: The Anatomy of Discord: Humans vs Wildlife in India’s Forests
December 2008 - February 2009
For some years now, India’s forests and their surrounding areas have been witness to a continuous, low-intensity conflict between their two primary denizens: wildlife and humans. The struggle has been for space and for the resources that these lands offer. With reducing forest cover and resources, humans and wildlife are being pushed to confront each other.
Habitat for animals has shrunk, forcing them to invade human settlements inside and around the forests, causing loss of life and property. In turn, they become targets of retaliation killings and poaching rings.
On the other hand, people, dependent on forests for livelihood and sustenance, have been given a short shrift by official policy and forest bureaucracy in its bid to protect wildlife. This has fuelled discontent, and turned the forests’ erstwhile protectors into poachers and smugglers. In fact, the officialdom’s efforts to keep India’s wildlife habitats pristine by evicting and relocating people have come to naught: in over 30 years of wildlife management, not even 10 per cent of the families in the country’s tiger reserves have been relocated.
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dweller (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, passed in 2006, has rekindled the debate: Who are our forests for? How well do we understand human-animal conflicts and the reasons behind them? What really has been our experience with relocation, or with the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, till date? What is the way out? Is coexistence a possibility or a pipe-dream in today’s conditions?
The Centre for Science and Environment announced its Eighth CSE Media Fellowship titled “The Anatomy of Discord: Humans vs Wildlife in India’s forests” to find answers, by studying, investigating and reporting.
Applications accompanied by their resumes, samples of work and letter of support from their editors were received from across the country. A total of 50 applications were received out of which 35 were shortlisted for final selection.
A jury comprising of wildlife experts and senior media professionals was constituted to select the fellows. The jury members were
Dr Yadavendradev Jhala: head of the animal ecology and conservation biology section at the Wildlife Institute of India.
Mr Vinod Varshney: Chief of Bureau of Hindustan at Delhi
Pankaj Pachauri, senior editor with NDTV India
Lalitha Panicker, senior associate editor with Hindustan Times
The parameters for assessing the candidates included originality of ideas; grasp of issues covered; relevance of the issues covered; range of the issues covered; analytical skills; writing skills; and initiative. The jury was requested to finalise the selection of journalists for the fellowship, enrich proposed story ideas with fresh perspectives and suggest ways to make future fellowships more challenging and meaningful.
The jury selected the 13 most promising candidates for awarding the fellowship grant. The fellows were given from December 25, 2008 to February 25, 2009 for working on their subjects. We present to you the fellows and their work.
Sub Editor/Reporter, Lokmat Samachar
Archana Singh is a sub editor cum reporter in the Hindi newspaper, Lokmat Samachar, from the Lokmat group. With ten years of experience behind her, she has written stories on human, development and environment issues. She has also worked with All India Radio and Doordarshan.
For the fellowship Archana proposed to look at human animal conflicts in Vidarbha region with special focus on tiger and leopard attacks in and around the Pench and Tadoba tiger reserves. She wanted to investigate the increasing conflict, the reasons behind it and whether there is a larger conspiracy involved in this. She also wanted to look at crores of money spent on conservation programmes without any results.
The jury found her subject interesting and based on facts. They suggested that she also look at whether Pench and Tadoba are cases of wildlife mismanagement. Conservation, when successful, gives rise to a peculiar situation. More numbers of tigers, for instance, mean they need more territory to roam in. When they don’t get this territory, they quite naturally start straying out of the protected areas – and get poisoned or shot when they step out. The jury wanted her to look at the issue of how wildlife should be managed when and if a conservation programme becomes successful and results in increased numbers.
The jury felt that the conspiracy angle put forth by her was interesting. They said that the forest areas that she was referring to in her proposal – as in most such protected areas in the country – have seen encroachment on large scale, sometimes even by individuals and institutions who claim to be working for the cause of conservation and wildlife protection! They suggested her to investigate some of these cases too.
Baba Mayaram Freelancer, Pipariya Prakash, Daily Chhattisgarh
Pipariya, Madhya Pradesh
Baba Mayaram is a freelancer based in Pipariya in Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh and will be writing for the weekly Pipariya Prakash and the daily Chhattisgarh. He has been travelling and writing on traditional agriculture systems, environment, labour, women, slum dwellers, education, health, human rights and tribals for the last 15 years. He ha worked with Nai Dunia and Deshbandhu previously. Mayaram has also received the National Foundation of India fellowship in 2003 to write on impact of globalisation on agriculture in Chhattisgarh.
For the fellowship Mayaram proposed to look at Satpura Tiger Reserve and the displacement of villages from inside the forests, their relocation and the conflicts arising out of it. He also proposed to look at people’s involvement in conservation in the case of the Tawa Matsya Sangh.
Mayaram published five stories in the daily Chhattisgarh and one in the Indore based Dainik Chhattisgarh.
Biswajeet Banerjee Special Correspondent, The Pioneer
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
Biswajeet writes for The Pioneer and the Associated Press in Lucknow and has been in the field for the last 15 years. He has also worked with the Press Trust of India and The Times of India previously. Biswajeet has covered important events in the state like election trails of top leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and starvation deaths in Varanasi district.
Biswajeet proposed to look at the human-animal conflict in the Terai region namely, Lakhimpur Khiri, Shahjahanpur, Pilibhit, Dudhwa National Park, Kishanpur sanctuary, Ranipur sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh and Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand. The change in cropping pattern and its impact on the conflict, the threat to animals in forest areas due to the rail tracks, like the Mailani-Gonda route that passes through Dudhwa, rehabilitation of people from the Dudhwa National Park, poaching issues in Dudhwa, illegal trade in wildlife parts and poisoning of wild animals in conflict areas were the important points of his proposal.
The jury found his proposal to be focused and well researched. The region that he intended to report on under the fellowship – the terai – has a potential for a very high degree of human-wildlife conflict. Some of this conflict is already playing out, with disastrous implications for both humans and wildlife. The jury felt that this was an area that needed more reporting. Biswajeet published eight stories.
Freelancer, Far East Focus
Biswendu is a freelance journalist based in Agartala, Tripura who specialises in writing on environment and socio-economic issues. He contributes to a number of publications and agencies in Tripura – Far East Focus, Unite News of India, and Down To Earth. He has also worked with the Deccan Herald, The Sentinel, and Dainik Sambad. Biswendu has also authored books on the climate and nature of Tripura and environment science text books for the Tripura Board of Secondary education.
Biswendu proposed to look at the conflict between man and monkey in Tripura. He wanted to focus on the role of jhum, wire fencing along the Bangladesh border that has threatened the movement of monkeys. He wanted to write on human interference in forest areas and monkey habitats and the coexistence of monkeys and villagers in some areas and the plans of the state government.
The jury felt that the sub-plot of the proposal on the wire fencing on the border and the impact of jhum cultivation on monkey habitats were important points and suggested Biswendu to do a series of stories on them. Biswendu published three stories
Special Correspondent, Dhimsa and Freelancer, Eenadu
Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh
Srinivas is a correspondent with the Telugu monthly magazine Dhimsa, which is published by Samata. Based in Vishakhapatnam, he also contributes to a host of other dailies like, Eenadu, Vaartha and Prajasakthi. He has attended various important meetings like the International women and mining conference in 2004 and World Social Forum in 2004. A graduate in history, he was also selected for the Foundation for People’s Journalism’s Best Journalist Award in 2008 for articles on tribal issues. In his proposal Srinivas wanted to look at the Nagarjuna Srisailam Tiger Reserve. He wanted to report on the conflict in the region, the Chenchu tribals and their displacement from Srisailam, and the implementation of the Tribal Rights Act of 2006 in their case. But what interested the jury was his point on the presence of Maoists in the forests and the impact on the issues surrounding the forests. The jury suggested him to look into the information that Maoists were now working with the forest department.
Jehangir is a freelancer with the Srinagar based English newspaper The Rising Kashmir and a Kashmir correspondent for Civil Society. He has previously worked with The Kashmir Times and Daily Etala’at. He was awarded the Sanjoy Ghose Humanitarian Award for story writing by Charkha Development Communication Network in 2006. For the fellowship, Jehangir proposed to look at timber smuggling and poaching in forests of Kashmir valley. Wildlife in the region has borne the brunt: their numbers have declined and their habitats destroyed. As a result, they have intruded into human habitations leading to conflict. Human encroachment and interference has further stressed the area. The jury approve his proposal. Jehangir published five stories from March 2, 2009 to March 25, 2009 in the Rising Kashmir daily.
Mohan Maruti Maskar Patil
Sub Editor, Lokmat
Mohan is a sub editor with the Marathi newspaper, Lokmat of the Lokmat group. In his eight years of experience he has also worked with the daily Tarun Bharat.
For the fellowship Mohan proposed to work on the increasing human interference in the wildlife habitats of Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur, Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri districts in Maharashtra and the resulting conflicts. He also wanted to look at the wildlife corridors in the Western Ghats. An important point in his scope of study was the impact of windmills on birds in Satara district. Mohan was also interested in the smuggling of narkhya and multiple displacements in Koyna.
The jury felt that while his subject of study was interesting, a little more focus was needed. The jury suggested to explore the windmill idea which can give rise to an engrossing series of stories with a “green vs green” angle – on the one hand you have windmills, perceived as environment-friendly, reusable energy source, while on the other hand are issues which include encroachments on and destruction of corridors and habitats by windmill farms. Especially since the area is a habitat for the highly endangered Great Indian Bustard. The jury also approved the story on the smuggling of ‘narkhya’ and the subject of multiple displacements in Koyna.
Pankaj Sekhsaria is a freelancer, associated with the environmental group Kalpavriksha, who writes widely on issues of wildlife and forests in leading newspapers and magazines. Pankaj edits a bi-monthly newsletter called the Protected Area Update. He has received fellowships from Leadership in Environment and Development (LEAD) programme, the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) to write on issues of biodiversity and conservation and the National Foundation for India (NFI) Media Fellowship 2005-06 for writing on issues of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
th support form Pune edition of DNA newspaper, Pankaj proposed to write on the human-leopard conflict in western Maharashtra. He wanted to join Vidya Athreya and her team from Kati Trust on her research on biology of leopards outside the protected areas and the leopard-human conflict. The jury approved his proposal without any modifications or changes.
Pankaj published five stories in a series from February 16, 2009 to February 20, 2009.
Priya M Menon
Special Correspondent, The Times of India
Chennai, Tamil Nadu
Priya Menon has an experience of eight years writing news pieces and features on issues of women, health, travel, environment and animal-welfare. She has worked with The New Indian Express group in various capacities.
For the fellowship Priya submitted two proposals. The first one was on human elephant conflict in Sindhudurg and Kolhapur districts in Maharashtra. She wanted to look at the rising level of conflict, the affected villages, the efforts at a solution and the proposed elephant village at the Tillari dam in Sindhudurg. The other proposal was on human elephant conflict in Coimbatore Forest Division. Here too her focus areas were the increasing conflict, the affected communities, solution to the issue and land use violation in elephant corridors.
The jury approved her second proposal on the human elephant conflict in Coimbatore forest division. The jury felt that investigative stories on land use violations was interesting as a lot of these violations were done by conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts. Priya published eight stories.
Freelancer, Hindustan Times
Rajshekhar Pant has been contributing extensively to various newspapers and magazines on issues of Uttarakhand. He has written on a vast range of issues like environment, regional archaeology, culture and other social issues. Rajshekhar has also done scripts for documentaries for UP Tourism, National Hydro Power Corporation, Ministry of Tribal Affairs. Rajshekhar is also an academician and has taught English and communication skills in different schools.
For the fellowship Rajshekhar proposed the Nandadevi Biosphere Reserve. The human settlements in the reserve have been deprived of their rights to use forest resources for their livelihood. A ban on tourism in the reserve has further affected their ability to earn a living. This has resulted in increasing incidences of poaching and illegal harvest and trade of medicinal plants. The human wildlife conflict in the region has also exacerbated further affecting the subsistence economy. The jury approved his proposal as it is.
Special Correspondent, Hindustan
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
Ranjib has extensive experience in reporting on various issues including, the energy sector, politics, political parties, wildlife and environment, across the northern and eastern region. In his 15 years in journalism he started with Prabhat Khabar and has worked with Hindustan and Jansatta.
For the fellowship Ranjib proposed to study and report on the human-wildlife conflict in Dudhwa National Park and Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh, the Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand and the Kaziranga National Park in Assam. He wanted to focus on the killer train tracks in the terai forest areas, the rehabilitation of the Gujjar community from the Rajaji NP, the growing human-rhino conflict in Kaziranga and the reasons behind it.
Besides the range and originality of his story ideas, what also weighed in his favour was the language he wrote in. CSE encourages Hindi as well as regional language journalists as much as it does those writing in English. There was one suggestion from the Jury: that Ranjib also look at the large-scale sand and stone mining going on in the wildlife corridors of Dudhwa, Katarniaghat, Rajaji etc and do a series of investigative reports on it.
Executive Editor, 7 Days
Anurag is an executive editor with the Hindi weekly 7 Days. He has 18 years of experience with leading papers in the country like Hindustan, Nav Bharat Times, Amar Ujala, Rashtriya Sahara and regional dailies like Prabhat Khabar, Rajasthan Patrika, Punjab Kesari and Dainik Tribune. He has written extensively on mining issues in the region and has also published a book of his writings on deteriorating financial health of industries in Dhanbad.
In his proposal Anurag proposed to look at conflict between humans and elephants in Santhal Paragana, Chatra, Palamu, Ranchi and other conflict areas in Jharkhand. His focus will be shrinking elephant habitat and the reasons for the conflict. He will also be looking at elephant conservation and through it, how to resolve the conflict. The jury approved his proposal but suggested that he travel to places where the conflict is taking place and report from there. Anurag did not complete his fellowship and published just one story in the newspaper Khabarkhand.
What is ‘good food’? Food that is free of contamination and adulteration, that is prepared in a way which does not harm the environment. Food that is wholesome, that does not compromise our health. The definition and understanding seems simple enough, but the issue is far more complex.