What NGOs Need to Do in India

I n early July 2016, Harsh V ardhan and I were sitting idly on my front porch in Northern V ir ginia enjoying the day and each other’s company . W e have been colleagues and friends since the early 1980s and the relaxed conversation came easily despite not having seen each other for a decade. Harsh and his wife Chandrakala were visiting their eldest daughter and her family in Canada and Harsh had arranged to come south for a few days to visit my wife and me. “Y ou know, ” he said, “we are planning to hold our 20th Bird Fair next February and I’d like you to write something for our publication that comes out during the Fair .” Though I had contributed articles on various subjects for previous Fairs, those had all been done when I was actively involved in conservation projects in India through my previous association with the U.S. Fish and W ildlife Service;
Retired now since late 2005 and more or less out of the main information flow from India, I tried various excuses about not having much to contribute. Harsh would have none of it. “W rite about what you think!” and closed the discussion. What do I think? What could I write that might mean something to the reader, something they could take away as useful? While pondering the issue, I recalled a conversation Harsh and I had near the beginning of our relationship in early 1980s when he asked me something like, “What should be done to create a functioning wildlife conservation program?” Harsh was (and still is) involved with a small non-governmental or ganization, the T ourism and W ildlife Society of India (TWSI) and is actively engaged in a series of activities to educate and engage the public, as well as the local governmental agencies, in conservation. My response then was for such a movement to successfully move f o r w a r d, t h e r e h a d t o b e a w a r e n e s s b y t h e g e n e r a l p u b l i c, l e g i s l a t i o n t o p r o v i d e o f fi c i a l s a n c t i o n, a c o m m i t m e n t o f personnel to work in various wildlife fields, institutions and or ganizations that could provide training and funding to support projects, and governmental support that involved acting on recommendations put forward by the scientific community . W ith any of these pieces lacking or not committed, progress would be stymied. I thought about that conversation for some time and reviewed what I knew about India’s wildlife conservation movement. India’s rich natural fauna and flora have long been recognized by local populations for their importance as a means of sustenance as well as exploitation. Royal edicts for protection of hunting areas as well as local ef forts to protect special sacred natural sites led to more formal state and federal reserves. Legislation was passed and governmental entities came into being to administer formal management practices. Non-governmental or ganizations, among the first of these were the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and the Nilgiri W ildlife and Environment Association (NWEA) which started in the late 1800s, championed the study of natural history and all its forms. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, India’s wildlife scene started to pique the interest of the international community and stimulated a d d i t i o n a l i n t e r e s t a n d s u p p o r t o f a g r o w i n g movement for wildlife conservation. India committed t o i n t e r n a t i o n a l c o n v e n t i o n s a n d a g r e e m e n t s recognizing the interdependence of healthy plant and animal relationships with human activities and that practices in one country could have an ef fect on other countries. A fledgling Government of India wildlife training school was established at Dehra Dun in 1982. This was followed by the creation of separate Ministry for E n v i r o n m e n t a n d F o r e s t s i n 1 9 8 5 w h i c h a l s o established the Dehra Dun institute as an autonomous body . The notion that wildlife and the environment were recognized by the Government as well as a swelling rank of non-governmental or ganizations as important and relevant fields of study and management, attracted a rising population of interested youth. These youth could see that interest in these subjects could not only enrich their own lives but lead to stimulating and rewarding hobbies or even professions. When I left India in November 2005 after my last of ficial visit which culminated an almost 30 years span of watching and assisting in the development of the wildlife and environmental movement, it was definitely a happy/sad moment;
Happy that I could play a role in the growth of the wildlife movement in India, and sad that this was an end of an era for me personally . But of course, the Indian environmental movement has continued and grown, involving more people and more or ganizations. The challenges and problems do not lessen, but the movement to address these challenges and problems continue to flourish and sprout. This latter impression was brought home to me recently when I received the April-June 2016 issue of the Bombay Natural History Society’s quarterly publication, “Hornbill.” I am a life member of the BNHS and receive their publications on a regular basis, although delayed because of the surface mailing process. This issue, unlike their previous pattern presenting a series of articles, dedicates this issue to show-casing wildlife art by 24 (if I counted correctly) young Indian wildlife artists. As I paged through the edition, the breadth, quality and beauty of the various works depicted, left me almost speechless and very moved emotionally . This, I think, was one of the reasons that BNHS was trying to accomplish with the publication. Art can create a visual a n d e m o t i o n a l s e n s a t i o n t h a t s t r i k e s a d e e p p a r t o f o u r consciousness from wherein we gain peace and harmony, and we need these young artists to help us do that. So, carry on Indian environmentalists. Carry on TWSI, BNHS, NWEA, Ministry of Environment and Forest, W ildlife Institute of India, Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and all the other federal, state, NGOs and individuals (my friend Harsh for sure) working for a healthier and productive life through wildlife.

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