Khaki stripes

  • 14/08/1997

When Lord Peel set up the police department as it would eventually come to be known in England, he foresaw that it would be used to protect the commonfolk from the lawbreaker.

When the police was set up by the British in India, it was to replace the army of occupation by a security force devoted to the welfare of the white sahibs. The commonfolk and the poor figured very low on the list of priorities of this new law enforcement machinery.

If any crime related to the poor was solved it was only where their interests did not clash with the elite of that time.

When the white sahibs left the brown sahibs came. The bureaucrats and ministers of independent India replaced the officials of the British Raj. The police was pressed into the service of this new breed of very important persons ( vips). Even as the cost of maintaining security began to mount to astronomical heights, two of India's highly protected political personalities were assassinated. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 and six years later her son Rajiv Gandhi.

Therefore it is necessary to review, in the light of the above, the latest proposal which comes from a group of over enthusiastic and probably very misguided wildlife enthusiasts, that the police should be used to manage and run wildlife parks and sanctuaries and the responsibility of enforcing wildlife laws must be taken away from the ministry of environment and handed over to the home ministry. Both former Union minister for environment Maneka Gandhi and tiger specialist Valmik Thapar are of this opinion. In a letter written to both the environment minister and the home minister, Gandhi has expressed the opinion that the environment ministry is toothless in law and has suggested the home ministry immediately set up an enforcement cell to deal with the continuing trade in tiger bones. Valmik Thapar has echoed this sentiment by stating that the "conservation community is tired of suggesting ways and means to improve wildlife management in the country." He has gone a step forward to suggest that, therefore, a separate protected area authority under a few superintendents of police should be set up to tackle the problem.

Are these overenthusiastic conservationists suggesting that a new security force be set up to protect the new brahmins of the age of ecofascism about to dawn in India ?

Then the question arises, what will happen to the locals who live near these sanctuaries?

Furthering the recommendations made by Gandhi and Thapar, Ulhas Karanth of the Bangalore-based Centre for Wildlife Studies has suggested that critical wildlife areas be turned into "no development zones".

This argument is based on the assumption that since 'good wildlife habitat' is less than two per cent of India's land area, it is not much of a sacrifice. What is promptly forgotten are the poor forest-dwelling communities which eke out a meagre existence near these sanctuaries.

Does a human being cease to be human if the same is a forest-dwelling tribal? Can forest dwelling tribals then be left to the tender mercies of the police department and should interacting with the forest - to eke out a traditional livelihood - be made an offence under the Indian Penal Code ( ipc )?

Should Section 302 ipc , which deals with homicide, be expanded to cover the killing of lions, tigers and elephants?

And would the same environmentalists not mind surrendering their homes and taking up alternative accommodation, if it were found that their presence were endangering the existence of a rare species of earthworm in their lawns ?

For by now it is quite obvious that the next recommendation will be to kick the tribals out from the no development zones or, in polite bureaucratic terms, relocate them.

Let us assume that this new security force to protect Indian endangered animals is finally set up, then what shall we call it. The Black Cats protect politicians, therefore it would be a good idea to call it the Green Cats to differentiate it from the other. However, this would make it necessary to go in for a change of uniform, therefore the government would be advised to call this new force the Yellow Cats or the Khaki Cats.

Now that conservationists have reached a stage where they are asking for police protection for endangered animals, let them make it easier for bureaucrats by deciding the levels of protection required for each species, categories, like the z-category for politicians, must be spelt out clearly for the protection of the animals.

There must also be clear guidelines regarding offences. Which offences will be bailable and which non-bailable? For the law to be fair the poacher must know what his or her rights are. It must be very clearly stated whether shooting at a tiger and missing will only attract a fine or imprisonment under Section 307 ipc , as an attempt to murder ?

As regards the tribal and the forest dweller it is already very clear what his or her rights will be.

He or she will have the right to remain silent.

Anything he or she says can and will be used in a court of law against him or her.

And he or she will have the right to an attorney.

Despite the best efforts of environmentalists and social workers, tribals have invariably preferred to exercise only the first right.