That, in essence, is Valmik Thapar’s advice to the central government for balancing environmental concerns with the imperatives of economic growth and development. Thapar is passionate about tigers. His love affair with the majestic big cat is over four decades old. He has written or edited 28 books; his most recent work titled Saving Wild India: A Blueprint for Change, which was released in July 2015. Thapar tells Ramesh Ramachandran in an interview that antiquated laws rooted in India’s colonial past and bureaucratic inertia have not only paralysed the growth of wildlife tourism but also threatened precious wilderness with destruction. “Change and reform are not on the agenda of any government,” Thapar rues but commends the judiciary for its interventions. “Without them we would be in an impossible crisis.”
Edited Excerpts from an interview
Could you cite some specific instances of man-animal conflict which you might have personally been a witness to and which, you think, should spur the development-versus-ecology debate?
I think the best example to give is from 40 years ago when I first went to Ranthambore in Rajasthan. This was an unknown place with horse carts at the station to ferry people. The area of the forest was dotted with villagers and seeing tigers or any wildlife was a near impossibility. This was early 1976: bullock carts roamed the park and agricultural fields made up the mosaic of forest and village. With single-minded determination, the then field director resettled 12 critical villages from the core of the area. He believed this intervention would be a game changer. It was. By 1983, the tigers grew in numbers and both tigers and wildlife became visible. This attracted visitors. Tourism slowly boomed, boosting the local economy. From a zero turnover from tourism, this area today generates, directly and indirectly, anywhere between 300 and 700 crore a year. Sawai Madhopur, the district town adjacent to Ranthambore, is the most important destination in the world to see wild tigers. It has changed forever. You do not need industry or highways here. Tourism has spurred development and there is no debate about this. The benefits have impacted thousands.
So relocation of villages was effective in protecting the tiger?
Relocating villages is essential in creating breeding grounds for tigers. It is a vital solution and when you partner with non-governmental players on this sensitive issue it is a win-win situation for all. Wildlife benefits, people benefit and with innovative tourism, economies are boosted.