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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

An indefinite fast to save tigers

TNN | Jun 19, 2012, 01.23AM IST NAGPUR: What veteran Gandhian Sundarlal Bahuguna achieved with the 'Chipko' movement in the forests of the Himalayas in the 70s and more recently Anna Hazare with his hunger strikes against corruption, an unheralded wildlife lover from Chandrapur is trying to replicate to save tigers in Maharashtra. Bahuguna's 'Chipko Andolan' was a movement that practised the Gandhian methods of satyagraha and non-violent resistance by hugging trees to protect them. Hazare had the nation's attention on corruption in high offices with his hunger strikes and 'maun vrats'. Bandu Dhotre, founder president of Eco-Pro, an ecology protection NGO from Chandrapur, is planning to sit on an indefinite fast from July 2 in front of Van Bhavan, the state's forest headquarters here. Though this may perhaps be the first time someone is attempting such a thing for the protection of wildlife, fasting for a cause in not new to Dhotre. The 32-year-old wildlife activist hogged limelight after his fast unto death three years ago against allotment of coal blocks to power major Adani in Lohara in the buffer area of the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) buffer. Perturbed by the recent spurt in poaching, he wanted to do something to save wildcats. Dhotre, who works closely with the forest department, feels the series of measures announced by the government to save tigers are just cosmetic. "The government is beating about the bush and is treating the symptoms instead of the cause. The remedy is to treat the area around the reserve at par with the core area," he says. Dhotre, who has the support of the Nagpur Environment Protection Group (NEPG) and other NGOs, adds that the forest department's focus is on Tadoba when the "problems lie outside". "Tadoba tigers get VIP treatment while those outside live 'below poverty line," he says. Poaching is one issue but widening of roads, man-animal conflict, illicit bamboo felling, encroachments, open wells, mines and power projects further pose serious threat to tigers outside Tadoba. Dhotre, who has created a team of over 100 volunteers in Chandrapur some of who are former poachers themselves, feels Chandrapur district is one of the best tiger abodes in India. To protect tigers, he says the rich forest areas under the Forest Development Corporation of India (FDCM) should be handed over to the forest wildlife department. "The FDCM is into felling of timber and wildlife management practices are zero and that's causing problems," he said on Monday. The government should merge forest areas with FDCM and those with Chandrapur division to make it a large wildlife area. The wildlife lover feels transfers and postings are small steps. What is needed is creation of new posts and reorganization of beats by keeping it to 500-700 hectares under one guard instead of 1200-1800 at present. Dhotre's demands may be genuine but his counterparts in Chandrapur are wary of the stir. "We agree to his demands but his 'ekla chalo re' policy is unacceptable. His demands have been raised by us earlier," says Suresh Chopne, president of Green Planet, Chandrapur. Chopne heads a federation of 8-9 NGOs in Chandrapur. However, this doesn't dilute the efforts of Dhotre who would be one among the hundreds of NGOs sitting on hunger strike for the sake of tigers.

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