Prerna Singh Bindra is one of India’s leading environmental journalist and travel writer. She is also a visiting faculty at National Centre for Biological Sciences and has received the Carl Zeiss Wildlife Conservation Award.She was member, National Board for Wildlife and its core Standing Committee (2010-2013). She is on the State Board for Wildlife, Uttarakhand and is Founder-Director of Bagh Trust. She edits TigerLink and is associated with Wildlife Conservation Society of India. Her books include The King and I: Travels in Tigerland, The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Tiger. At a time when the NDWBF focus is Enviroment, Book Link brings you her voice on India’s positives vis a vis Nature.
How is Indian biodiversity different from that of developed countries like UK and USA? What does India need to learn from them? I would say it is the other way around! Indians have a lot to be proud of in conserving its wildlife, and biodiversity.
Consider this: India is soon to be the most populous country in the world (with about 17 per cent of the world population) in just over two per cent of the world’s land mass. India has grinding poverty, even as it is a fast developing economy, with high aspirations of a double digit growth with its resultant pressures.
Yet, India has done a remarkable job in conservation. India is looked upon as a global leader in conservation having pioneered initiatives to protect tigers and other rare species. It is also the custodian of species that are extinct—or found only in very low numbers elsewhere. Like the Gangetic dolphin—over 80 per cent of the global population inhabit the Ganga–Meghna–Brahmaputra river basin. Wild predators like tigers and leopards, and megafauna such as elephants and bears, continue to thrive among a human population of 1.3 billion—and counting. Predators have mostly been wiped off in most of Europe and America. India’s people are remarkably accepting of predators in their midst: revering nature is intrinsic in our culture.
The lesson here is we can conserve, if there is the will to do it of both governments which provides the legal institutional framework, as well as the people, whose cooperation is integral to any conservation project. Both Project Tiger a n d Project Crocodile were pioneering initiatives of their time that revived critically endangered species— that a country like India had the recourses and thewill to do this is worth emulating.

Book Link: How do you think our traditional, cultural and religious roots can help people realise the importance of preserving our natural environment?

Prerna Singh Bindra: Fact of the matter is, we are a culture that is rooted in nature. We have an elephant god, a monkey god, a vulture god, a crocodile god, and there is a temple in Bikaner where rats are worshipped! We have the ‘Aranyaka (Forest) Upanishad’. Ecology and nature is in our DNA.

We worship rivers—they are intrinsic to our religious rituals, so much so that even as we leave the earth, our ashes are immersed in them to gain salvation. The Ganga is the holiest of them all. When the Goddess Ganga descended on the earth, it was astride the gharial but our rapacity has rendered this ancient crocodilian species extinct in the river.

I think we need to reconnect with our culture, in which the value which understood the importance of nature, how it is essential to our survival.

I also believe religious groups can play a greater role because of their enormous following and clout on the human race. I do not study religion, but from within my limited knowledge, all religions revere the earth, support all forms of life, and can play a great role if they involve themselves in conservation.

Several projects like Save Tigers, Chipko Movement, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Solar Energy Plans, Clean Our Rivers have been introduced from time to time. How much have they really benefitted the cause?

Yes, India has played a lead globally in conservation efforts. Project Tiger was the biggest conservation effort, globally, of its time, and other initiatives to save crocodiles was equally enormous.

In fact, India had the first ‘chipko’ movement way back in 1970s in Khejadli village near Jodhpur in Rajasthan when 363 Bishnois, led by Amrita Devi sacrificed their lives while protecting Khejri trees considered sacred by the community, by hugging them. There have been other’s people’s movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the movement to save the pristine rainforest of the Silent Valley from being submerged by a hydel project. Silent Valley is now protected as a National Park. In the late 1960s, through to ’70s and early ’80s, India displayed strong political will to conserve its wildlife and safeguard environment. It has today the best of conservation laws, and this along with the cultural connect to nature, has helped preserve wildlife.

Having said that, India’s wildlife is in a crisis today. Wild animals including tigers, rhinos, leopards, monitor lizards, otters, pangolins, owls (to name just a few) are being poached ruthlessly to feed the illegal wildlife trade. Natural habitats are being destroyed and fragmented at an alarming scale. More worryingly, there is a severe absence of political will to conserve wildlife, and unless we muster up the will, and rally for wildlife...its future is grim. At a personal level—we need to arm ourselves with knowledge, and use it to spread the word about how endangered wildlife is, why it matters to us, and we need to make ourselves heard. The health of our environment matters to all of us, —we need forests, and oceans—as they are the lungs of the earth, giving us the oxygen we breathe.

India’s forests absorb 11 per cent of green house gasses. We are breathing poison—the air in India’s capital. Delhi is the most polluted, toxic air in the world—it is because the ecology of the city has collapsed. We have allowed industry to grow unfettered, we treat Yamuna as a sewer, dumping our filth into it, our garbage is making mountains—we have cut the forests, mined the Aravalis, built over wetlands and so we ail with ill-health-allergies, lung diseases, headaches, migraines, cancers. We need to understand these connects, why nature is important for our survival, and value it. Lend your support, and your skills, to those engaged to conserve wildlife. If you are a teacher, you can influence your students in the cause, or as a journalist, write about it. Raise your voice against the destruction of a wetland in your neighourhood, or lend support to organizations who are doing so.

Also, think before you use resources, or waste them. Shut off lights, computers, when you don’t need them, turn off taps. Think before you buy stuff: Do you really need it? It seems like small stuff, but when you save the earth’s precious, limited resources, you lighten the burden on forests and other natural habitats from where they are sourced.