‘Accountability and Incentivisation – need of the hour’
Dr G V Reddy, IFS and PCCF Development, Rajasthan speaks about various concerns facing forests and wildlife in India.
He is so in awe and admiration of the tiger, he calls himself ‘a servant of the tiger’. Save the tiger and its forests, you save vital water and so many resources we humans need, is his firm belief. This forester of over two decades has had many run-ins with poachers and had arrest warrants issued on counter cases filed by poachers. Dr G V Reddy, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Rajasthan believes that community awareness plays a big role in conservation. Not just the forest department, but all departments of the government, as well as the public must work to protect nature. Minor sacrifices by individuals and society can help save the tiger, he believes.
Dr Reddy has no qualms in admitting to fear in his first encounter with a tigress and her cubs in Ranthambore, but the journey since then has made him realise that the danger is from humans and not wildlife. He minces no words in decrying the politicisation of the system, or lack of accountability at work. Principles, Patience, Persuasion and Persistence are what helped him in facing many of the challenges.
“People who have real knowledge have no power to decide; on the contrary, people who have the power to decide rarely have knowledge.” However, there are exceptions, he acknowledges, with some individual officers who have the interest and patience to consult. They are the hope for our forests (and wildlife) which are the only common good that can take us along on a truly sustainable development, he adds.
After completing his post-graduation in botany from SV University, he chose to join the forest service in 1985, thanks to the exposure from his father “who had been a range officer and excellent field botanist who could identify so many species of grass”.
Having worked as Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) Kota and CCF Wildlife, Bharatpur, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Project Formulations and Coordination) and Chief Wildlife Warden for three years, he now is PCCF Development in the Rajasthan forest department looking after protection, management and planning of the forest department of the state.
Dr Reddy is known for his innovative methods in protection, forest management and so on. Recognising his efforts as divisional forest officer, the Banswara forest division was adjudged best forest division for the year 1996 and he was conferred the “Government of Rajasthan state merit certificate 1997 (State award)”. He is perhaps known best for his work in helping Ranthambore Tiger Reserve recover from large scale grazing and reviving tiger populations during his stint as deputy conservator of forests.
Dr Reddy worked on biodiversity management for his doctorate from Manipal University. The dissertation was on ‘Comparative evaluation of management regimes for biodiversity conservation in India: A case study from Nagarahole, Karnataka.
He has received many national and international awards, some of which include: IUCN special list group merit certificate; ABN AMRO Sanctuary Award; Carl Zeiss Award; Green Earth foundation Eco- warrior award. He has authored many studies among which is Lost Tigers, Plundered Forest, an extensive study that shows how management affects susceptible wildlife populations like the tiger and highlights the challenges of reviving a severely diminished population.
The biggest issue facing wildlife and forests today is that arising from human-wildlife conflict, he avers. Insufficient funds and staff crunch are pushing wildlife to local extinction. “We need to have right policy and commitment by the government to save the species. But sadly, nobody wants to work in wildlife areas as implementing the law is very difficult. Also, the staff are not well supported, and prefer to go to less taxing and more comfortable jobs in the department. We need a mechanism to recognise the hard work of the wildlife staff and encourage them with sufficient resources.” He also believes there is need to implement science-based monitoring.
He clarifies that conflict is both inside and outside. For instance, inside the forest there is no control over cattle grazing. “Most of the forests are over-grazed, leaving very little grass for the natural prey base. It is a reality in most of the forests of India.”
Dr Reddy notes how goat rearing is a big issue. “Thousands of goats go to forests for browsing. Being small sized animals, they are the easy prey available to the wild animals, alternate to wild prey. This is the first conflict point. The wild animal follows these goat trails or the cattle trails and reach the villages which then becomes the second conflict point.”
In states like Rajasthan, Haryana, UP and Bihar the nilgai population has gone up because of absence of natural predator outside the traditional forests and protected areas. The crop damage because of the nilgai is a serious concern. Very few state governments are willing to cover this under crop insurance scheme, he says. Often the costs of the conflicts are borne by the individual and not adequately compensated. “The process is also long, which then brews a lot of discontentment,” he says, adding, “The number of deaths because of big cats’ attack is negligible compared to the number of deaths due to road accidents.”
Dr Reddy is someone who ardently believes in scientific rigours of wildlife management but nevertheless has his rationale to ‘burning’ issues, based on his years of experience. For instance, in the context of recent discussions in academic circles on controlled ground fires as a remedy to prevent larger fires, he thinks differently. “Fire is a good servant but a bad master. The experience with forest fires in America or in Australia or Indonesia has been worst. The fires destroyed the whole ecosystems including rare and endangered animals while the smoke spread far and wide threatening the health of millions of people. Such controlled fires also can lead to major fires. There are many alternate mechanisms to clear fire lines as advanced planning. Personally,I believe that controlled firing is the most difficult and dangerous task.”
Ask him what he believes was the most challenging task he has undertaken and accomplished, he has no doubts that it was that of arresting the large-scale grazing in the Ranthambore tiger reserve. It took almost six long years to put in place a system, given the huge number of 1000 people and more, with 7000-8000 cattle that camped for four months in the forest. The forest staff were overwhelmed by the numbers and no match to the highly united graziers.
The political system also supported the communities and not the department. “I had to work on motivating my staff. We resisted the grazing by involving in constant dialogue with the communities, political leaders and top bureaucracy. I could convince everybody the problem of grazing as a problem of the state and thus could address it.”
The grazing has almost stopped now. It is now about 5% of what it used to be in 1997 when he took charge.
According to Dr Reddy, the bigger challenges he faced as he moved up the ladder was to work with almost half of the staff, as there was no recruitment of range officers for more than 20 years and at the same time the biotic pressures have gone up. “The legal process is too complicated and very lengthy. Offenders have become bolder. There is no system of accountability. Sadly, individual officer performance is never measured or monitored properly,” he says.
On the much-denounced and debated February 13, 2018 Supreme Court judgement on eviction of rejected claims under Forest Rights Act 2006, Dr Reddy contends that the Gram Sabha, as the ground level agency which scrutinises claims, is the best judge. As the matter is now sub-judice, he prefers not to comment.
Team Outreach, WCS-India