Saturday, May 19, 2018

Judge Loya Case: Hit-wicket of a Judgment

Image result for supreme court
Supreme Court of India

At eight days remove (April 11, 2018 and April 19, 2018) the Supreme Court of India handed out two important judgments: Asok Pande case and Judge Loya’s case. Coincidentally (or ironically) it was the same CJI-led 3-judge bench that passed both the judgments. More coincidentally (or more ironically) it was Justice D.Y. Chandrachud who authored both the judgments.
The Loya judgment runs into 114 pages. Six pages (106-111) across six paragraphs (71-76) are devoted to Public Interest Litigation issues. Since many legal commentators have critiqued the judgment incisively. I’ll only focus on the 6 paras alluded above.

Paragraph 71 of the judgment deals at length on Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and the Bench has rightly observed inter alia that “The essential aspect of the procedure is that the person who moves the court has no personal interest in the outcome of the proceedings apart from a general standing as a citizen before the court. This ensures the objectivity of those who pursue the grievance before the court... public interest litigation has become a powerful instrument to preserve the rule of law and to ensure the accountability of and transparency within structures of governance.”

So far so good – nothing to quibble about the well-known spirit and efficacy of PIL. Yet, read as a whole this seems mere foregrounding – a preamble to the real thing. 

From paragraph 72 one senses the purpose of foregrounding as the crescendo rises. “… it [PIL] has been realised that this jurisdiction is capable of being and has been brazenly mis-utilised by persons with a personal agenda… a desire to seek publicity… instituted at the behest of business or political rivals to settle scores behind the facade of a public interest litigation. The true face of the litigant behind the façade is seldom unraveled.”

Paragraph 73 sees more of the same banality and the rising crescendo. “The misuse of public interest litigation is a serious matter of concern for the judicial process. Both this court and the High Courts are flooded with litigation and are burdened by arrears… It is a travesty of justice for the resources of the legal system to be consumed by an avalanche of misdirected petitions purportedly filed in the public interest which, upon due scrutiny, are found to promote a personal, business or political agenda. This has spawned an industry of vested interests in litigation…. Worse still, such petitions pose a grave danger to the credibility of the judicial process…. There is a danger that the judicial process will be reduced to a charade, if disputes beyond the ken of legal parameters occupy the judicial space”.

The same pontification from the pulpit continues in paragraph 74. “Repeatedly, counsel for the petitioners and intervenors have attempted to inform the court that they have no personal agenda and that they have instituted these proceedings to protect judicial independence… But… it has become clear that the petition is a veiled attempt to launch a frontal attack on the independence of the judiciary and to dilute the credibility of judicial institutions. Judicial review is a potent weapon to preserve the rule of law. However, here we have been confronted with a spate of scurrilous allegations. Absent any tittle of proof that they are conspirators in a murder the court must stand by the statements of the judicial officers.

Paragraph 75 goes ballistic – against the petitioners’ and the intervenors’ counsels. “We must in this context record what we have heard during the course of the submissions. Mr Dave has urged that (i) he wants to cross-examine the judges; and (ii) he does not believe the judicial officers. Aspersions have been cast on the Administrative Committee of the Bombay High Court. This court has been called upon to issue a notice of contempt to the judges on the Committee at the relevant time. Ms Jaising has joined the fray by requesting that this court to issue contempt notices to the Administrative Committee of the Bombay High CourtEven the judges of this Bench hearing the present proceedings, have not been spared from this vituperative assault on the judiciary.”

Paragraph 76 is Prashant Bhushan’s preserve: “Mr. Prashant Bhushan argued that because two of the judges constituting the present Bench (Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud) were judges of the Bombay High Court, they may have known the judicial officers who have submitted statements or Justice Bhushan Gavai and Justice SB Shukre. If this were to be the test, it is rather ironical that the petitioners had instituted proceedings before the Bombay High Court each of whose judges were expected to be faced with the same situation. We informed Mr Bhushan that a decision as to whether a judge should hear a case is a matter of conscience for the judge. There is absolutely no ground or basis to recuse. Judges of the High Court hear intra court appeals against orders of their own colleagues. References are made to larger Benches when there are differences of view. Judges of the Supreme Court hear appeals arising from judgments rendered by judges of the High Courts in which they served... We emphatically clarify that on the well-settled parameters which hold the field, there is no reason for any member of the present Bench to recuse from the hearing. While it is simple for a judge faced with these kinds of wanton attacks to withdraw from a case, doing so would amount to an abdication of duty. There are higher values which guide our conduct... Serious attacks have been made on the credibility of two judges of the Bombay High Court. The conduct of the petitioners and the intervenors scandalises the process of the court and prima facie constitutes criminal contempt.

One wonders if this is how anger finds expression in judgments. If Prashant Bhusan made a reference about the possibility of the two apex court judges knowing the judges of the Bombay High Court and in Maharashtra, the right thing is to answer them in the courtroom and bring it to a closure. You don’t rush matters to the Supreme Court when the cause of action is in the High Court’s jurisdiction. That the petitioners instituted “proceedings before the Bombay High Court each of whose judges were expected to be faced with the same situation” is facetious, to say the least. High Courts have no choice; Supreme Court has.

Same goes for Supreme Court judges hearing appeals arising from judgments rendered by judges of the High Courts in which they served – it’s tautological! Even a judge’s recusal. But underpinning these are a few universal legal axioms: justice mustn’t only be done but seen to be done; judges must be men of integrity and impartial, and be thought to be so; and that judges must be like Caesar’s wife – above board.  

Nor can one appreciate the judgment’s sermonizing: “While it is simple for a judge faced with these kinds of wanton attacks to withdraw from a case, doing so would amount to an abdication of duty. There are higher values which guide our conduct”. How is this abdication of duty? Duty at times entails stepping down or aside to make way for someone else placed and viewed differently to perform duty of that station that’s more universally beyond misgivings: justice mustn’t only be done but seen to be done!

Equally, to aver “There are higher values which guide our conduct” sounds hollow when stressed, more when not warranted. Higher values are higher callings, intrinsic to one’s conscience and need no declamation; every declamation demeans and belittles purity of higher values, thereby trivializing its sacredness and pulling it down in ample notches. Judgments needn’t be assertions-on-wheels.

Nor can one appreciate how “Serious attacks have been made on the credibility of two judges of the Bombay High Court”. My fallible memory rushes back to the Indian Express report: what prompted the two judges to speak with the reporters? Was there anything to reiterate and add, beyond what they had said in the Discreet Inquiry to be made public? Judges, like any common man, are human too, embracing same attributes and failings.

If this judgment endeavours to ring fence the notion that judges don’t lie, even when and especially when not performing judicial duties, let me narrate an incident of the late-1980s. One Justice Ranganath Misra, then a Supreme Court judge and far higher in judicial perch than the four judges in the case, had been invited to address a function where he said (not the exact words, but something to this effect): We don’t want women to grow up… from 4 feet to 5 feet or more… Their place is in the kitchen! The news when published created a furore. When approached to issue an apology, Justice Misra denied to have said so. Only when confronted with the tape did he issue an apology!

That said, how credible is the judgment’s assertion? “The conduct of the petitioners and the intervenors scandalises the process of the court and prima facie constitutes criminal contempt”. Are then judges’ words even outside their judicial work and when acting as a common man to be taken as gospel truth because they do not and cannot lie? If a demand is made by the petitioners/intervenors and their counsels for them to file affidavits, does it amount to scandalizing the process of the court and prima facie constitute criminal contempt?

Not to forget that the case was transferred out of Bombay High Court jurisdiction despite Dushyant Dave arguing against it. This is puzzling – even contradicts the judgment itself that says that the Supreme Court is flooded with PILs forcing accumulation of more arrears. Yet the court devoted 9 sittings (Mondays and Fridays at 2 pm) to hear the case and enormous time to peruse volumes of documents and write the judgment. Several experts have commented on its legal merits, one even calling it the “ADM Jabalpur” moment of modern-day Supreme Court – not a pretty commentary.

Nor do the counsels’ action “prima facie constitutes criminal contempt”.

Nor even that “… we have chosen not to initiate proceedings by way of criminal contempt if only not to give an impression that the litigants and the lawyers appearing for them have been subjected to an unequal battle with the authority of law”. One senses this is not so much a threat as debunking Prashant Bhusan; then equating fairness with catholicity, and thereafter memorializing such surges of large-heartedness in the judgment for future referencing. This is as unfair as it can get.

The bristling vented in the judgment doesn’t seem only this case’s making. It seems a case of accumulated angst and past grievances held against them, accentuated now with the spate of cases (Prasad Education Trust and its reverberations in Master of Roster et al) that have told on the apex court’s functioning in the last 6-8 months, which both Dushyant Dave and Prashant Bhusan have highlighted.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that Prashant Bhusan has been threatened with contempt. Not too far back on November 10, 2017 when pleading before the 5-judge bench on the Master of Roster issue, the CJI had remarked that “You (Prashant Bhusan) are beneath contempt” (sic). What it meant and what the underlying implication was is best left for others to fathom.

While such threats are nowhere new, it needs recalling that when Prashant Bhusan was charged for contempt in 2010 in the corruption case of past Chief Justices of India, his father, Shanti Bhushan, in an affidavit had said those immortal lines that he “be added as a respondent to this contempt petition so that he is also suitably punished for this contempt. The applicant would consider it a great honour to spend time in jail for making an effort to get for the people of India an honest and clean judiciary.” Neither was the threat of contempt carried out nor the case of corruption in the highest rung of judiciary been heard and adjudicated yet.

Issues of corruption continue to assail the Supreme Court, only exacerbated in the last few months and these are the ones that Dushyant Dave and Prashant Bhusan have tried to address.

Far from them scandalising and committing contempt of the court, they have plumped for judicial transparency and accountability. Fali Nariman once said that “the offence of scandalising the court is a mercurial jurisdiction in which there are no rules and no constraints.” While the Contempt of Courts Act, 1952 carries no definition of ‘contempt,’ a definition was introduced in the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. Yet there is “no definition of what constitutes scandalising the court, or what prejudices, or interferes with, the course of justice”.

How off-centre we are from the English contempt law from whom we inherited the idea! Fittingly, let the final word on contempt of court go to Lord Salmon and Lord Denning.

Lord Denning in R vs. Commissioner of Police (1968): “Let me say at once that we will never use this jurisdiction as a means to uphold our own dignity. That must rest on surer foundations. Nor will we use it to suppress those who speak against us. We do not fear criticism, nor do we resent it. For there is something far more important at stake. It is no less than freedom of speech itself…We must rely on our conduct itself to be its own vindication.

Lord Salmon in AG vs. BBB (1981): “The description ‘Contempt of Court’ no doubt has a historical basis, but it is nonetheless misleading. Its object is not to protect the dignity of the Courts but to protect the administration of justice.”

Given this background and given the judgment’s tone and tenor, the inevitable question is: how fair is this judgment? One may even add the issue of application of equal standards to all petitioners/counsels. If Dave’s and Bhusan’s conduct was deplorable, was Rohatgi’s any less? How’s that Rohatgi who interfered repeatedly as the opposite counsels made submissions, there is no reference, not even a whisper, to such execrable behaviour in the judgment! Nor is there any mention of the serious conflict of interest alleged by Dave against Rohatgi, Salve and Sisodia.

More nagging thoughts assail the mind. How can questioning the action [transferring one CBI special judge (J.T. Utpat) and getting another (B.H. Loya)] of the Administrative Committee of the Bombay High Court in violation of Supreme Court direction and asking the apex court to issue a notice of contempt, scurrilous? Even the choice of words is telltale: Ms Jaising has joined the fray to issue contempt notices to the Administrative Committee.

Suspicions raised on facts and on preponderance of probabilities have been smothered that it doesn’t warrant fresh independent investigation impugns native commonsense. It’s a hit-wicket of a judgment! Wonder if some day the judiciary will regret this self-goal. Amen!

Monday, April 16, 2018

An Indian Citizen’s Anguish: A Judgment That Wasn’t!

Several thoughts assail a citizen’s anguished mind in the wake of the recent judgment of the Supreme Court in Asok Pande case. Yet it is entirely on expected line, only worse compounded by poor philosophical foundation of its logic. One wonders if this quick judgment delivered inside of two days is aimed at preempting and nullifying Shanti Bhusan’s application that has raised some fundamental questions on legal propriety, not to speak of moral and ethical issues.

There are moral and ethical issues in this case too. For the CJI – whose acts of allocating cases had prompted the 4 senior most judges of the apex court to go public with their anguish – to head this bench to hear the matter rather than recuse himself is the most fundamental. “Nemo iudex in causa sua” – no person shall be a judge in his own cause, goes the well-known judicial principle of natural justice. This proves the very erroneousness of the basic foundation of arguments adduced in the judgment to dismiss the petition. The logic is flawed because it is invalid.

How much this streak of folly runs through the argument is evidenced from the fact that the arguments lasted for less than five minutes, and far from dismissing the petition “in limine”, the judgment was reserved, and delivered without any notices issued to respondents. Public perception of suspicion of events unfolding in the apex court shall haunt us for all times: Was the pronouncement of the judgment made in double-quick time (within two days, after a 5-minute hearing) aimed at forestalling Shanti Bhusan’s petition’s outcome, which though submitted around Pande’s petition, wasn’t registered or numbered or listed and heard till April 13, 2018? Or, will this judgment become the newest threshold to determine Shanti Bhusan’s petition’s outcome, much as the instant judgment leans heavily on the Supreme Court’s hurriedly ordered constitution bench’s judgment of November 10, 2017?

Beyond impugning the basic tenets of legal juridical foundations on “natural justice” and “conflict of interest”, the judgment per se also bristles with fundamental weaknesses on the scaffolding that makes democracy the best available human construct yet: separation of power, checks and balances, rule of law. The judgment deems entrustment and vesting of powers on the CJI as axiomatic and beyond human doubting – and tempered and wrapped with supreme, high-falutin divinity. To wit: “The authority which is conferred upon the Chief Justice, it must be remembered, is vested in a high constitutional functionary. The authority is entrusted to the Chief Justice because such an entrustment of functions is necessary for the efficient transaction of the administrative and judicial work of the Court”. Add the following lines – “In the allocation of cases and the constitution of benches the Chief Justice has an exclusive prerogative. As a repository of constitutional trust, the Chief Justice is an institution in himself” and the egregiousness of axioms are complete. The absolutism attributed to Louis XIV of France “I am the State” (“L’Etat, cest moi”) in the late-17th and early-18th centuries could be apocryphal, but the “absolutism” conferred here in the 21st century by the highest court of the land is for real!

The coup de gràce of the judgment’s rationale comes a touch later though. “The entrustment of functions to the Chief Justice as the head of the institution, is with the purpose of securing the position of the Supreme Court as an independent safeguard for the preservation of personal liberty.” Read the next two utterly presumptuous misjudgments: “There cannot be a presumption of mistrust” and “The oath of office demands nothing less.” Were the same true, the Supreme Court itself wouldn’t have offered the collegium system for appointment of judges to the higher courts of the land rather than leaving it in the hands of the Chief Justice of India.

Looked at in a broader canvas, if the same spirit of oath of office had animated and held fast for all other holders of constitutional offices, we would be living in a paradise with no need of any oversight countervailing bodies!

Clearly divinity with its benediction is in full play here. Their Lordships have invoked divine benediction and blessings to take the failings off a normal possessive individualist man to the realm of the astral, and to posit certain select humans from time to time to be blessed with this transcendental sheen. It is just as well to remember that it’s this innate inexorable human nature that prompted the early man to codify a social contract, today best exemplified in the term “Rule of Law”. Reposing blind faith on the CJI on administrative matters when the role itself is likely to set the tone and pattern of the justice delivery system, especially in times of demand for accountability and clamour for transparency, and when other state organs and public functionaries (the Prime Minister not excepted) are rightfully hauled over the coal in their public acts, betrays a poor philosophical understanding of India’s socio-economic and political reality. It needs no reminding that the words of Thomas Fuller, the 17th century English churchman and historian, “Be you ever so high, the law is above you” or any of its variants is apotheosized today and is on every citizen’s lips. Today is like no other time, especially when the social media has gained traction thanks to the internet highway.  

I guess even a George Curzon would turn in his grave and blanch at the inadequacies of his own egotistical presumptions: “I am George Nathaniel Curzon, a very superior person”. Sadly, aside from its innate weaknesses of the logic and the delusion of grandeur in investing divine certitude and omnipotence on select juridical pantheon(s), the judgment fails to take into account the nation’s prevalent mood, and the raging groundswell for fairness and impartiality that has surged in every citizen’s heart, and the wired world we live in. Neither does the order take into account the fact that it concerns the highest court of the land with no court of appeal beyond it.

Silhouetting the issue against a larger canvas, one anguishes how much Justice Robert H. Jackson’s prescient words in United States vs Wunderlich that men are more often bribed by their loyalties and ambitions than by money ring true in India today. Intellectual dishonesty is insidiously debilitating and way harder to guard against.

One foresees greater disquiet and turmoil in the foreseeable future in an India that already is in ferment. We look up to the Supreme Court to uphold our rights and liberty by strict invocation of the rule of law and constitutional values; it is far too revered an institution to be trifled with. Its wellness shall determine the wellness of India's governance architecture and India's democracy. Clearly, the matter is a battle of accountability/transparency vs. inhered feudal arrogance/opacity, of constitutional separation of power/checks and balances/intellectual honesty/openness vs. conflation of power/nepotism/cloying cronyism, of the status quo-ists/hidebound conservatives vs. neo-Indian foot soldiers/passionate proponents of existential realism. The dialectics inevitably, even inexorably, shall play out with equal vehemence on both sides of the divide for quite awhile in this battle of attrition.

Plurality, equality, fairness, time-tested conventions, judicial morality, transparency, rule of law are all germane to any modern democracy in a world corralled by internet highway. If these traits are absent or vitiated, it shall strike at the very root and diminish democracy. Much as opacity must make way for transparency, feudal hidebound Indian hierarchical order must give way to logic, nous, and smarts. Sadly, this hurriedly crafted judgment delivered from the pulpit of justice is far from ennobling and edifying – not for the present, doubtless not for the future too.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Tiger Reserves And Core Area Inviolability

In a visit to the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) in November 2014, my views on the dire need to rid the core area of human habitation was further fortified. Periyar is an entirely different reserve unlike most others, and quite similar to Sunderbans. Tigers are hard to sight. The tourists are taken around in motor boats in the two important rivers, namely Periyar and Mulla, which pass through this reserve and also form a lake – more aptly a big reservoir – caused by the Mulla-Periyar dam constructed in 1895. Travel by road in the core area is not open to the visiting public. It is a fairly large tiger reserve spread across 925 sq km with a core area of 881 sq km (95 percent) and a buffer area of 44 sq km (5 percent). The tiger reserve is full with tropical rainforests, tropical evergreen forests and moist deciduous forests.
Tiger In Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sourabh Bharti, Sudhansu Mohanty
Tiger in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (Image: Sourabh Bharti)
The famous Sabarimala shrine is located in one part of the tiger reserve. This has been declared as buffer zone. Pilgrims – more than twenty million in number – visit the shrine in a short span of two months every year. While the entire tiger reserve is dominated by rainforest and is protected, an area of approximately 209 hectares called Pachakanam Estate (also called Downton Estate) is held as a private property situated in the core and critical habitat – which apart from tigers, is also home to many other wild animals like elephants, gaursambar, barking deer, wild boar, Nilgiri langur, lion-tailed macaque, wild dog, leopard etc. – of this tiger reserve. The area, originally an excellent patch of rainforests, has been converted into cardamom plantation. The estate is bordered by critical tiger habitat on all sides. Apart from cardamom cultivation, the area has also being converted and put to other land use. The estate management engages more than 600 local laborers. The transportation of these laborers through the 12 km stretch of roads constructed in the tiger habitat has caused severe biotic pressure and vehicular pollution. As we drove in closer to the perimeter of the Pachakanam Estate and alighted, we saw through the wired fences the hideous permanent structures in the core area of the Reserves. This seemed outrageous in the core area and completely unacceptable to a lay man, let alone the conservationists. About 100 laborers reside inside the estate in these permanent homes and at times engaged in illegal activities. Only a few years ago, five laborers were arrested for possessing illegal sambar meat.
Tiger In Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sourabh Bharti, Sudhansu Mohanty
Tiger in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (Image: Sourabh Bharti)
Also Read Part-I: e-Eye Of The Tiger
The Periyar Tiger Reserve over the last few years had discussed the issue of transfer and acquisition of this estate from the private management by the Government. The estates management too was willing to sell the property. Though included in the annual plan of operations the past few years, it hadn’t been possible for the National Tiger Conservation Authority to mobilise funds for acquisition due to budgetary constraints under the Project Tiger’s ongoing centrally-sponsored scheme. Over time, the amount for monetary compensation had grown and in end-2014 stood at around Rs 60 crore.
“Why can’t we pay and make the area inviolate?” I asked SP. By now I was fairly aware of the imperatives of core-buffer implications. He explained the fund constraints, the lack of holistic appreciation of eco-system services that a tiger reserve offers and overall apathy to environmental concerns. In my tour report, I said that since the critical core area of tiger reserve – the go/no-go forest bounds – had been severely affected due to human intervention as also associated problems like use of fertilisers and pesticides that run off downstream affecting the pristine ecosystem, there was an acute need to acquire the property at the earliest to make the core tiger reserve area completely inviolate.
Tiger In Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sourabh Bharti, Sudhansu Mohanty
Tiger in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (Image: Sourabh Bharti)
Also Read Part-II: TESS Conveys Project Tiger Activities More Aptly Than PT
I decided to plead during my discussions for the revised estimates for 2014-15 fiscal year with Ratan Watal, then Secretary (Expenditure) in the Ministry of Finance, now Principal Adviser, Niti Aayog and member of Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council. “It’s called Pachakanam or Downton Estate,” I said, by way of introduction. “The owners had opted to move out of the core area on payment of compensation for the land. All documents had been readied. The issue has been – still is – the funds, which over the years, had grown from a paltry few crores to sixty crore rupees now.” I made a strong pitch for the additional sum. The memory of my interactions with the field managers led by the energetic and enthusiastic John Mathew as we drove over to the patch of land where cardamom cultivation was carried out by a family engaged in business employing about six hundred workers, that had ravaged the core area came rushing back to my mind. “I’d request an additional 60 crore rupees be given to us for Periyar Tiger Reserve to make it completely inviolate,” I said, and explained why.
Watal and his team of officers heard me patiently, appreciating the need, though a few eyes rolled disappointedly at me for my senseless perseverance and pertinacity in the wake of clear government directives. True, the Ministry of Finance, hamstrung by the new government’s emphasis on increased devolution of funds to States, hadn’t had enough leeway to agree to my request. The focus was on slashing funds to reduce fiscal deficit, not how such acts would impact ongoing activities directly or in its rippling effects in months and years to come. Being myopic and purblind helps governance – the reason why I am not so sanguine about the formulaic sustainable development model bandied about incessantly. I feel underwhelmed.
Tiger In Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sourabh Bharti, Sudhansu Mohanty
Tiger in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (Image: Sourabh Bharti)
Also Read Part-III: Tigers’ Wellness Is Our Wellness Too
Oddly enough, tiger safari is a clear possibility in Periyar, which receives about 7-8 lakh visitors round the year, including thousands of foreign tourists. Given its landscape, the tourists are allowed to visit the Tiger Reserve only on boats. With limits placed on numbers, many tourists frustrate upon denied entry. One possible way out of this ecotourism conundrum is the making of a tiger safari in the buffer area – just a kilometre off the Kumily town. The rewilded tigers (orphaned infant cubs, injured tigers, trained and rewilded to cope with the demands of wild living) as well as aging tigers that are often sent to the zoos could be relocated in the suggested safari much like the planned tiger safari in Kanha Tiger Reserve. Given human passion and thrill to sight tigers in the wild, this would also take the pressure off boat rides inside the Tiger Reserve. Also, given the craze for sighting tigers in the wild, the internal rate of return on the amount invested will be very high, and the investment can be recovered easily in 2-3 years’ time. It would also provide employment to the local population in ecotourism, where focus on eco-conservation could be the essence – to highlight through innovative and feasible modules such as solar-panel atop jeeps and buses to ferry tourists in this unique safari. It is entirely possible that this can work out as a win-win model for all stakeholders including frustrated tourists denied entry on account of carrying capacity limitation while simultaneously appealing to the tourists’ sense of thrill for sighting tigers in the wild.
Tiger in Kanha Tiger Reserve (Image: SP Yadav)
Tiger in Kanha Tiger Reserve (Image: SP Yadav)
I can’t but wax eloquent on the beauty, quietude, and serenity of Periyar, especially the two spots I visited on boat: Thanikudy and Mullakudy. In my thanksgiving email to John Mathew, the passionate Assistant Director of Periyar Tiger Reserve, I wrote:
“First up I must say that your email ID is so representative of your surrounds and the (wild) environment you work in that vividly captures, more than in one way, the pristine world of Periyar Tiger Reserve. I write to thank you for being with us all the while we’re there and showing us around the good work PTR has done. I only hope you don’t forget the few ideas I gave you: recording the gurgling music of Periyar at Thanikudy as the river bounces along on its pathway and strikes a magical tune punctuated with the birds’ myriad notes that are so mellifluous to the human ears. I can well imagine how dulcet the river’s and the nature’s notes will be in the serenity of the night when the nocturnal forest creatures would be only adding to the charm of the pitter-patter of the cascading river! As I said, the effect would be soporific to the unquiet and disquiet urban minds and should put them to sleep [call it sleeping music (Sleepsic), if you will!], apart from being a lullaby to lull the babies to sleep (Lullasic!). Record all 24 hours, chip-chop it to the best notes in a CD of 2-3 hours. It should work. The other thing: capturing the forest by night and wrapping the film on a CFL bulb would be creating/dispersing a forest ecosystem on the bedroom walls as a night light. It’ll be infinitely more apt than any night light I have seen and experienced.”
Tiger In Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sourabh Bharti, Sudhansu Mohanty
Tiger in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (Image: Sourabh Bharti)
Also Read Part-IV: Environment vs. Development: Who Wins?
When I went next to Periyar on a private visit, a year later in end-December 2015, it hadn’t been done yet. Amid our animated chatter and bonhomie, I nudged John reminding him of our past discussions and how tiger-men need to leverage every idea coming their way to spread environmental awareness among common people.
Before I sign off, a word on the much talked about radio-collars aimed at studying tiger behaviour in the wild. We had travelled to Kanha to change the battery of the radio-collar of a particular tiger. We followed the tiger sedulously but it kept eluding us. We saw it a couple of times on the jungle path but it walked away nonchalantly, and finally climbed up the hilly terrain and went out of our vision. We couldn’t dart to sedate it; we weren’t close enough for that. It’s the first of the requirements; it affords time and opportunity to either change the battery of the earlier radio-collar or put a new collar around its neck. The evening before, I had seen radio-collars for the first time. They are rather bulky, weighing around 2.8 kg. It’s been hard finding a smarter one with transmitters and GPS. Though a well-grown adult tiger’s body weight ranges between 180-215 kg, in an anthropocentric sense any artificial appendage is likely to cause initial uneasiness, much like we feel wearing a ring the first time around. But animals, wild and domestic, adapt themselves to such accoutrements. There is no scientific study yet confirming radio-collars have disturbed the courtship or other behavioral patterns of a tiger, as classically evidenced in Panna tigers, where the reintroduced tigers were “collared” to facilitate monitoring. They are doing just fine like any others.
Tiger In Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sudhansu Mohanty Prayag Mohanty Tiger Collar
Tiger with radio-collar (Image: Prayag Mohanty)
Also Read Part-V: The Oxymoron Called “Rewilding Tigers”

Postscript: On promotion, I moved over from the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change to the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Though not new to the MoD and its ways, for some strange inscrutable reason, the contrast was startling. I felt it inchmeal. As I pored over files and engaged in discussions with various stakeholders, my mind was forever ticking – my declarative and episodic memories quickly going on an overdrive. It was the financial outlay, stupid! I told myself finally – upwards of 200 times than the ones I’d gotten used to the past few years. Defence sector vs. Social sector! Here in the MoD with a whopping budget of three lakh forty-odd thousand crore rupees and ballooning year after year, sixty crore rupees was chicken feed. Such proposals didn’t even reach me, my joint secretaries were competent to concur in the proposals, while months before I was cadging – and failing, to get a move on. My mind, spaced-out, wasn’t quite prepared to accept the reality, refusing to take leave of our skewed developmental puzzlement. But such is the deigning today on social and environmental issues.
Tiger In Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sourabh Bharti, Sudhansu Mohanty
Tiger in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (Image: Sourabh Bharti)
Not to speak of depredations heaped on Mother Earth for sake of development. The Madhav Gadgil Committee prescriptions to declare 64 percent of the Western Ghats – the hotspots of mega-biodiversity – as an Ecologically Sensitive Area had been whittled down to a mere 37 percent by the Kasturirangan Committee came floating back to my mind. How the polemics over the recommendations of the two Committee’s Reports had cleaved the environmental community? The hardcore conservationists battling the development-oriented realpolitik! Now, as hurricanes – Irma, Jose, Maria et al – pound the Caribbean and southern US with breathless regularity and wildfires engulf Napa valley in California, my small mind unbeknownst to me, creeps back naively to innocent times when human beings lived in the state of nature – no matter how solitary and poor, even nasty and brutish they all were – but in harmony with Mother Nature they revered. And, how often have I not wondered if this isn’t the time for us to get back to the same reverence? The role that Tiger Reserves play isn’t inconsiderable on Planet Earth.
(Reproduced from Indus Dictum)