Elite in an ivory tower

  • 14/06/2000

The fatuous Indian elite must also be the most crooked elite in the world. When it comes to linking trade with environment on issues that affect the marauding rich industrialists of the country, you will hear everyone, from the prime minister downwards to the ministers of commerce and finance, shouting over the tree-tops in wto that this is a conspiracy of the rich nations to keep us backward. But when it comes to linking trade with environment on issues that affect the poor, then, of course, there is no problem. One can say that this is the result of the proverbial lack of coordination within the Indian babudom . But in reality this happens only because of the doublefacedness of the Indian politician - the rhetoric is pro-poor but the action is always pro-rich. Consistency is something that our politicians don't seem to know anything about. But if you were a foreigner how would you look upon the loud-talking, moralistic but doublefaced Indian politician?

For the last four years, the Indian delegation, first at the Harare meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species ( cites ) and now at its Nairobi meeting, has consistently opposed otherwise friendly southern African nations such as Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe on the opening up of ivory trade which remains banned since 1989. These countries have come up with progressive and highly successful wildlife policies under which they have ensured that the benefits of elephant populations like revenue from tourism and ivory and leather sales go to the communities which live cheek by jowl with these pachyderms. This gives them a stake in the elephants which otherwise are nothing more than pests which destroy their crops and occasionally even kill people. As a result, poaching is under control, the elephant population in these countries has increased and they want to open up ivory trade so that the elephant population can be culled and greater benefits can be provided to the local communities.

But wildlife management in India is a disaster. Wherever there are elephants there are serious human-elephant conflicts and India's wildlife babus have not deigned to do anything to resolve them. Poaching is rampant. In Nairobi, India teamed up with Kenya - an African nation which also has retrogade wildlife policies developed under the leadership of eco-fascist wildlifers like Richard Leakey - and Western countries to keep a lid on ivory trade. Simply because Indian babus cannot protect their own elephants, they need the support of Westerners to protect them. By that same logic then we should seek the support of the West to protect our environment by asking it to ban the imports of anything Indian industry produces that is harmful to the Indian environment. Our babus have proved totally incapable of protecting the environment. But, no, wto is a different ball-game.

India's ministry of environment has to find its own solution to protect its wildlife but first it will have to recognise that its wildlife management is in a crisis and then it will have to start experimenting with ways to involve local communities in managing the remaining wildlife of this country. But this never happens because our loudmouth politicians, who otherwise love to talk of the poor, couldn't care less. The poor living along sanctuaries and national parks are small fry for them to bother about. In the international fora, India must as a rule oppose any linking of trade to environment because trade sanctions can only be applied by the rich against the poor. Just imagine India trying to impose trade sanctions against the us for putting out too much carbon dioxide which can affect India's monsoon and therefore its agriculture? Atal Bihari Vajpayee would look like the joke of the day. India must force the international community to find ways to tame environmentally-errant nations that are equally effective against both the rich and poor nations.

An excellent example of how well the West applies all this environmental hoo-ha after taking its own economic interests in mind is the case of us sanctions against Taiwan on trade in tiger parts. As is expected, cites sanctions bite only when a powerful nation like the us takes them up. cites can only recommend a ban to its member-nations. The us had the courage to impose sanctions against a small nation like Taiwan but could not pick up the gumption to impose similar sanctions against China, another country that loves tiger parts. It is indeed an amazing world. Who isn't a crook?

At the Nairobi meeting, Kenya presented data to show the one-time sale of ivory that had been allowed at the last cites had increased elephant poaching in the country but the data when put under close scrutiny showed serious flaws. Finally, Kenya had to drop its call for a permanent ban on the sale of elephant products. Agreement was reached when the southern African nations temporarily accepted a continued ban on ivory sales, setting up two special monitoring committees which will try to spot any upsurge in elephant poaching or illegal ivory sales. The final decision will depend on the findings of these committees.

But what was really sad, as pointed out by Willem Wijnstekers, secretary general of cites , was that "the atmosphere swayed towards the protectionist direction and against sustainable use", thanks to Western animal lovers and the mindless support they got from the elitist governments of India and Kenya.

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