IFS, APCCF, Wildlife East, Nagpur
Mr B S Hooda , as the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Protection, wildlife ( East ) , Government of Maharashtra, has been holding positions of high responsibilities for decades. Mr. Hooda has been a well respected personality in his arena and regarded as the man of principle and commitments by his colleagues and people who know him closely. Since 1990s as he has started his career, he has seen the changing scenario and perspectives of the wildlife sector in India along with the rapid change in forest landscape.
TW team had the pleasure of talking to him in a candid conversation on conservation, wildlife tourism and the challenges ahead.
TW : The concept of forest conservation has seen a very aggressive campaign in the past five plus years along with number of individuals, NGOs and wildlife activists have been taking a lot of interests on the same. Do you think we have achieved the desired result as far as making people understand the importance of the conservation of nature and forest?
I think making people understand the nuances of ecosystem, importance of Conservation of nature and forests is a multi pronged and continuing process. The first step involves attracting people’s attention, the next will be to understand and appreciate the issue, third will be to deliberate on the available solutions & lastly to act on them. This is required to be done in a sustained manner. Thanks to the efforts of NGOs, individuals, wildlife activist, members of green corpse, the government, who have come up with various programs involving peoples participation and the technology with various social media access, we can definitely say that the first step to attract the attention of masses towards conservation of nature and forest has been reasonably achieved. But, we, all the stake holders cannot relax and need to carry this understanding to next level with greater strength and enthusiasm.
TW : Tadoba – Andhari Tiger Reserve has been one of the most popular tiger forests in India and it has been in the news often, more for the right reasons than otherwise; what have been the major reasons for the success and your plans in near future concerning TATR?
The Chandrapur district of Eastern Vidarbha is very fortunate in having a rich biodiversity. Apart from rich flora and fauna, the plain and almost flat surface makes it a perfect place for wildlife observation. TATR being well connected by rail, road and air and regular wildlife sightings played an important role to make it one of the most popular wildlife reserve of the country. No doubt even foreigners throng the place in great numbers. We would like to develop this reserve as a world class destination by providing the state of the art tourist facilities, like library, audio/visual presentation hall, retiring rooms, eateries, wash rooms, etc. Additional attractions like modern nature interpretation centre, tiger safari, adventure sports, trails, camping sites, etc are also being planned for future to make TATR experience much more wholesome.
TW : How serious is the problem of poaching in India now?
The poaching in India, mainly commercial cannot be seen in isolation. It is inter connected with gangs operating at national and international level. The domestic poaching is more or less has been controlled but as long as people have the fascination for wildlife and products made from them, the poaching menace will remain there. Though GOI has constituted a special wing to control poaching & trade in wildlife and its product, we are required to do a lot on this. Somehow, wildlife offence is not given the attention, it deserve at all levels. We require forming specialized wings to deal with this. Efforts are there like formation of WCCB, Tiger cells, STPF and establishment of Cyber Cells but an all out integrated approach with dedicated forensic lab to strengthen investigation is a must and we have to develop a system like ‘Interpol’ dedicated to wildlife at global level.
TW : How do you think the future of Wildlife tourism in the post Covid period will shape up ?
Covid-19 will be a mile stone in human history and diverse aspects of human life including wildlife tourism has been affected by the pandemic. The lack of tourism not only affected the direct players like resort & hotel owners, transporters, safari vehicle owners, nature guides, but it also affected our tourism revenue .There was almost 50 % drop in tourist revenue in the year 2020-21. This will affect the various welfare programs conducted through Tiger Foundations for the different stake holders who were out of government benefits ambit.I also think that this pandemic has made people realize the importance of not interfering with nature and keeping its balance.I feel that more number of people will come for wildlife tourism in order to appreciate nature once the covid problem is over.
TW : How has been your professional journey so far?
I started my career way back in the 1990s. The forest department then was having a special status among all other government departments because of its unique working areas. The forest works were highly labour oriented catering to class of people who were most backward. It was one of the important revenue earning departments for the government. It did play a major role of a savior during drought and grain shortage period. But slowly the focus has shifted from commercial to environmental cause with lot of focus on wildlife and habitat conservation. The old days of one way administration & planning has gone now as all the policies are required to be people/ community specific where they have their say in decision making.
TW : In the recent time, in the area of wildlife tourism there has been a conflict of interest between wildlife lovers, conservationists- sympathizers on one hand and irresponsible, insensitive and reckless tourists on the other. How do you think of tackling this issue considering the fact the tourism is an undeniable source of revenue for the sector?
There is lot of debate on whether we shall have wildlife tourism at all and if, yes, how far it shall go. Some extremist say there should be total ban on wildlife tourism as it is beyond the capacity of forest department to control it. However, there is general consensus that, we should have wildlife tourism albeit in a regulated manner. To straddle revenue generation and to regulate the wildlife tourism is a difficult task but we have to do it.
TW: What message you would like to give to the forest and wildlife lovers to ensure a better and greener world in future?
For better & greener world of tomorrow, the forest and wildlife lovers must ensure that besides understanding the importance of nature and wildlife conservation, appropriate action should also be taken on ground to achieve the objective of environment conservation. We must achieve the confidence of people; they should be educated in the ways to preserve the nature, to curtail extravagance of resources with special focus on school going children. We have to teach them how minimum is more.