One of the first visuals to emerge in the beginning of the lockdown were dolphins returning to Venice and Kolkata. This was soon followed by peacocks dancing in the concrete streets of Mumbai, and the 1.5 lakh flamingoes that put up a fantastic show at Sewri and Thane creek.
All this was evidence, people proclaimed, how well nature can thrive in the absence of human activity.
It’s a cute thought. There may have been some respite, but considering the Covid-19 lockdown to be a boon for nature is a sad misconception.
Economic activity might have come to a temporary standstill, but the relentless pursuit by humans to destroy the environment has not stopped. Poaching, illegal farming and deforestation have actually increased during the lockdown.
Poaching on the rise
Now that the air is clear enough for us to spot the Himalayas from as far as Saharanpur, let’s put on some binoculars and see beyond it.
A one-horned rhino was killed in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park, after 13 poaching-free years.
This is because in the absence of human activity and tourism, poachers are getting enough time and space to regroup, strategise and carry out the killing.
Animals might happy that no trucks or jeeps full of human beings are frequenting their habitats right now, but tourism is what keeps illegal activities in forests under check. Tourism also helps sustain tribes living in forest areas, who are at the risk of turning to hunting for food in absence of work.
In Maharashtra, sand smuggling, illegal tree felling and poaching have all witnessed a spurt amid lockdown. Officials seized 50 kg of Chital, Wild boar and Nilgai meat in Allapalli forests. On 12 April, officials found teak trees worth Rs 15 lakh felled near Jangaon.
The Rajasthan Forest and Wildlife Department also registered 6 cases of illegal hunting of chinkara (Indian gazelle) in Jodhpur over the past month.
On 10 May, a 17-year-old boy named Mukesh Bishnoi bravely fought off armed poachers who had just killed a chinkara. Smuggling of exotic birds at Uttar Pradesh – Nepal border has also been reported.
Forest rangers and officials in turn have ramped up patrolling and surveillance in India’s forests to protect our flora and fauna.
Their bravery and sacrifice has been best captured in this picture — another set of frontline workers selflessly working to keep the environment safe.
This is a telling photo of the risks our forest field staff face. Last night some miscreants assaulted our staff on night patrol. pic.twitter.com/WrOrKTHa46
— Koko Rosé (@Koko__Rose) May 22, 2020
A study by the University of Maryland found that deforestation in the world’s rainforests rose by 150 per cent in March as compared to 2017-19 average for the same month. It also noted that tropical rain forests lost about 6500 square kilometres in March alone — an area equivalent to the size of Berlin.
Assam’s Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, a rainforest that has been dubbed the ‘Amazon of the East’, is now under threat.The National Board of Wildlife has given a nod to a proposal that seeks to use of 98.59 hectares of land, that belongs to the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve, for coal-extraction.
People from Assam have been staging vociferous online protests, hoping to generate traction like Mumbai’s ‘Save Aarey’ movement. Who will tell them that India refuses to care about anything happening outside big cities like Delhi and Mumbai?
The Union Environment Ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee also virtually cleared felling of 2.7 lakh trees for a hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang valley.
The government appears to be granting faster, easier clearances in eco-zones amid lockdown. In fact, 291 environment activists wrote to Environment Minister Prakash Javedkar raising concerns about the same. In the letter, they specifically raised red flags against the 31 proposals by the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife in April, which are set to affect 15 tiger reserves, sanctuaries, eco-sensitive zones and wildlife corridors.
The activists also expressed concern that clearances are being granted on the basis of documents uploaded by stakeholders, and that only 10 minutes were given to members to appraise each project.
Not sure if Prakash Javedkar took note of this. Perhaps he continued watching Ramayana re-run on Doordarshan.
No speed break on climate catastrophe
Thanks to global Covid-19 lockdowns and reduced economic activity, the largest hole in the ozone layer above the arctic seems to have closed. But if you look down south, you’ll see that the Antarctic ice has turned green, which scientists say is a testament to global heating.
A few days of human captivity hasn’t reversed the harmful effect of centuries worth of environmental damage for the planet. And the recent natural disasters in India show the environment is far from being healed.
The increasingly intense and frequent cyclones in the Bay of Bengal can be attributed to rising ocean temperatures.The locust attacks are also a consequence of the climate catastrophe.The raging Uttarakhand fires have become an annual phenomenon because of which we lose a huge amount of forest land and innumerable animal species. While rise in temperatures might lead to wild fires worldwide, in many cases humans themselves set fire to the Dev Bhoomi’s green covers to clear land.
Hopefully, the experience of breathing clean air after a long time will make people take climate change more seriously, raise awareness about the issue and demand better environmental policies from their governments.
But considering all that’s going on in the world right presently, it’s safe to say we’re in the endgame now. But no avengers will come to our rescue.
Views are personal.