A trip to Haridwar and Rishikesh, Uttarakhand



Posted on 10 March 2009  | 
Interviews with senior journalists (November 7th-9th, 2008)
For the purpose of this project, I was lucky to interview senior journalists in India who have been working on the coverage of wildlife/forestry issues in India. The purpose of these interviews was to get a closer look at the task of wildlife journalists in India. The following paragraphs describe my experience.

As an internee working for TRAFFIC-India, I had the opportunity to work in the field in Haridwar and Rishikesh in the state of Uttarakhand, north of Delhi from November 7th to November 9th, 2008. I was joined and supervised by Reena Haorokcham, a colleague from TRAFFIC-India.

After a long six hours drive from Delhi we arrived at Haridwar and were kindly received by Mr. Rajeev Mehta, a well-known wildlife photographer whom I had the opportunity to meet earlier at “Expressions of Wilderness”, a photo exhibition on India’s wildlife during the Wildlife Week 2008 at WWF-India. Mr. Mehta was in charge for our stay in Haridwar. Later on that day we met Mr. Anil Kumar Sharma who is a journalist for the vernacular press (local journalism). He has been working as a journalist since 1986 and started covering wildlife/forestry issues in 1995.

I had previously sent Mr. Sharma a questionnaire via e-mail that he kindly took the time to respond. This questionnaire consisted of questions about wildlife and other important environmental issues that need much attention in India. As we discussed the questionnaire, our conversation made emphasis on the environmental impact of the work that is being done by governmental agencies as well non-governmental organizations in India. According to Mr. Sharma, the Indian government has to create a “fully empowered environmental impact assessment authority”. “This authority”, he said, “… will be expected to perform an impartial assessment of the current capacity and situation of forests in terms of availability of food, water, and the adequate conditions that are essential for the survival of wildlife.” The result of this assessment will be the creation of a national master plan to protect environmental decay as well as the loss of the ecosystem. The creation of this authority will also enhance another issue present in our discussion: the need of capacity building among the lower level of forest management officers and journalists in India. According to Mr. Sharma, journalism courses in Indian universities are very basic and few. As discussed in my report, we both agreed that basic training is one of the biggest deficiencies of environmental journalists in India and everywhere.

We also discussed about the top-relevance topics in the wildlife field. Wildlife-human conflict, wildlife habitat fragmentation, and continuity in wildlife corridors were among his answers. Mr. Sharma has been able to experience closely these environmental issues by covering the development of several governmental projects at Haridwar and Rishikesh in Uttarakhand.

One of the projects was located in The Rajaji National Park. This park was created in 1983 and is home to species like: the Asian elephant, tiger, leopard, Himalayan bear, cheetah, hog deer, barking deer, Sambar deer, wild boar, antelopes, jackal, hyena, jungle cat, leopard cat, civets, sloth bears, pythons, king cobra, common krait, Indian cobra and the monitor lizard. We went there to take a look at the water management project of the park. The Ganges River flows through the National Park for a distance of 24km, making its innumerable streams and brooks a source of diversity and a vast source of water for wildlife. We also visited the Bhimgoda Bairaj (built to regulate the level of water of the river) and the Hazara Ridge that, currently, is one of the favorite settlements for a tigress and her two cubs. According to Mr. Sharma there are thirteen tigers reported by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in the area.

According to Mr. Sharma one of the numerous causes of habitat fragmentation in the area was the construction of the Chilla Hydroelectric Project. Besides, wildlife-human conflict is clearly seen inside the park as the continuity of the corridors used by wildlife has been interrupted by human settlement. Human settlements do not only impact water management in the area but are also affecting the landscape and, consequently, environmental balance as the forest area has been transformed by farming and agricultural/horticultural activities.

Elephants are the flagship species of Rajaji National Park and a large number of this animal, both inside and outside of the park, has been adversely affected by the presence of Gujjars (a pastoral nomadic community , who came to this area in the 19th century in search of pasture) in this area. Therefore, elephant raids on rice, wheat, maize and sugar cane crops have been a result of human settlements in what used to be a natural corridor for wildlife. To prevent animal-human conflict in the area, solar-charged electric fences were installed around the forest. However, many of these fences have been destroyed by villagers as they stop them from going into the forest to harvest wildlife. This is only accentuating the conflict turning these areas into confrontation points.

As a response to the increasing fragmentation of the ecosystem and due to a water crisis present through the months of May and June, water management schemes have been created to provide a continuous source of water resources for wildlife. This has been done through the construction of pipes that connect the Ganges River to water holes that act as artificial water resources for wildlife in the park.

A concrete solution to the animal-human conflict in the area would be the modification of livelihood patterns of the people inhabiting the surrounding areas. One of these can be the change of crop patterns. A change in crop patterns would:
  • Increase the commercial use of land, resulting in more dividends for the people living in those areas.
  • Avoid the contamination of underground water systems and land erosion that comes from the use of chemical fertilizers on rice, wheat, maize, and sugar crops. Without chemical fertilizers not only will the land become more productive and, consequently, more productive, but it will also raise its value.
  • Enhance a healthy society as the chemical fertilizers will stop having a negative impact on human and wildlife health; gastrointestinal diseases, leukemia and other types of cancer would decrease in the local population.
Interviews with other senior journalists
  • Dr. Kamal Kant Budhkar. Reader: Hindi Journalism at Gurukul Kangri University, Haridwar, Uttarakhand, India
  • Mr. Mr. D.S. Bhati. Senior Correspondent for the Hindustan (Hindi Daily) in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, India
Mr. Anil made possible my interview with Dr. Kamalkant Budhkar and Mr. D.S. Bhati, Senior Correspondent for The Hindustan (Hindi Daily) in Haridwar. We discussed the many environmental and wildlife issues of high importance in India and Haridwar, in particular. The discussion with the senior journalists was focused on the obstacles a journalist might encounter when covering wildlife/forestry issues in India. “India is a vast country, with a huge population; it is a developing country where wildlife comes after people”, said Mr D. S. Bhati. Then, how can a journalist attract their audiences to wildlife/forestry issues? The answer lies in the approach that is given by the journalist. If the approach is the correct then audiences pay attention. One of the approaches that can be used is religion. Religious thinkers and environmental activists and journalists have begun to reflect on how the broader values of Hindu tradition might contribute to fostering greater care for the earth1. Another subject we discussed was the fact that a journalist in India has the task to cover a large scope of news that go from subjects like politics and economics to religion and wildlife. “Journalist specialization is a growing trend in India but journalism has still a long way to go”, said Mr Kamalkant. “Wildlife cannot cast a vote, which is why wildlife/forestry issues are not getting the attention that they should get”, he added.

Wildlife journalism in India can only achieve its objectives when journalists learn how to express their experiences on the field. This can only be accomplished when journalists get the sufficient understanding of ecosystems, deforestation, soil management; in other words, journalists will be able to complete their role as wildlife conservationists and their role as promoters of public awareness on wildlife issues when they acquire the required scientific and forestry management background.
  • Sunil Chhaiyan. Senior Sub Editor Dainik Jagran in Haridwar, Uttarackhand, India
Mr. Sunil Chhaiyan has been covering news related to the pollution of the Ganges River. His work focused public attention on the issue and became an essential pillar for the initiation of the Ganga Conservation Authority. The discussion with Mr. Chhaiyan also focused on the lack of wildlife training of journalists. According to Mr. Chhaiyan this is not the only obstacle for wildlife journalism in India. One of the biggest problems for journalists in India is to give follow-up to wildlife/forestry issues when their personal security is being threatened. He talked about defamation, life threats and illicit pressure of journalists by forest mafias.

When I asked him about core wildlife issues being left out he said, “The country lacks of a strong legislation agency which can check on land mafias.” He made emphasis on need to create a “team” between media, government and non-governmental organizations in India. “Without collaboration between these three stakeholders, wildlife conservation cannot go anywhere”, he said.
About the role of journalism as promoters of awareness on wildlife/forestry issues among public opinion, he said that “news are like products in the market, people will buy what they like; this pushes journalists to leave wildlife issues out of their agendas as they do not sell, but I never lose any chance to publish about environment because we are part of the environment and the environment is part of us.”

Conclusions
As a result of this trip to Haridwar and Rishikesh in the state of Uttarakhand I would like to make the following recommendations
  • A working committee should be established on a permanent basis to review the status of environmental education, evaluate options for improvements, and coordinate inter-agency actions regarding environmental education.
  • Population planning must take a more prominent role to avoid a negative impact of the increasing demands on natural resources from development activities. The goal of reducing fertility rates should be achieved by improving the quality of family planning services and by influencing the factors that promote high fertility. This would be beneficial not only for man for also for wildlife, as it will support sustainable development in the country.
  • The rapid growth of urban populations needs to be checked. This can be done by developing employment opportunities and other incentives for people to move to and remain in rural areas. Changing crop patterns will decrease human-wildlife conflict in the area and at the same time it will promote sustainable development.
As a final thought, journalists’ commitment towards the environment is there, the only thing wildlife journalism is missing are the tools to spread that commitment and involve public opinion in their mission as wildlife conservationists. I think the best way to learn about these topics and the effect they are having on the environment is to go into the field to experience and see them for yourself and that is what Mr. Anil Kumar Sharma made possible for me.

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1The Forum on Religion and Ecology provides a rich discussion about the links of Hinduism and nature. Available at http://fore.research.yale.edu/religion/hinduism/index.html (accessed November 15, 2008).
The Ganges River is important for Indians not just because it is a great source of water, but also because it is considered a holy river and a source of spirituality and purification
© WWF / Diana Zazueta Enlarge

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