How often we make the mistake of addressing the issues of wildlife and conservation with a binocular vision and not the entire ecosystem. When we talk about the ecosystem of wildlife – the animals , trees and people associated with the entire system and locals- each of them carry the same importance and play their role. Dr. Sarita Subramaniam and her team have been working in various areas related to wildlife management and conservation for several decades now. In an exclusive interview with TW Dr Sarita shared with us how important it is to understand and help the support staff of the forest who play a crucial role in its survival. She also talked about their recent project on providing clean drinking water to the forest staffs of Sunderban area in West Bengal …
Tell us about Earth Brigade Foundation and your association with this :
EARTH BRIGADE FOUNDATION (EBF) is an NGO established in 2017 by two dental surgeons, Dr. Sarita Subramaniam (BDS) and Dr. P.V.Subramaniam (MDS, Periodontist). They have been practicing in Mumbai, India, for more than 30 years.
What made you committed to these causes?
On account of my passion for wildlife, I have traversed the length and breadth of the country over the last two decades. This has given me many opportunities to understand the challenges facing wildlife, marginalized communities around forests, underprivileged women, as well as stray animals. Over the last two decades, we have contributed at a personal level to address some of these issues. However, i have realized that efforts on a much larger scale are needed to make a serious difference, which led to the formation of our not-for-profit Earth Brigade Foundation.
Can you share with us about this initiative on providing clean drinking water to the anti poaching camps in Sunderban ?
Project Jal is a new initiative from Earth Brigade Foundation, envisaged to provide reliable gravity-based water purifiers to frontline forest staff to ensure availability of clean drinking water to them through the year. EARTH BRIGADE FOUNDATION’S Project Aquarius has been tremendously successful in providing drinking water for wildlife, with over fifty solar-powered installations completed all over India in arid forest areas in the last three years.
Forest guards are the frontline warriors in protecting our wildlife and natural heritage. Their tough duty conditions entailed staying in remote Protection Huts/ Anti-Poaching Camps (APCs) and ‘chowkies’, with minimal infrastructure. One of the biggest challenges they face is the availability of safe and clean drinking water. Many of their outposts do not have electricity, and their only source of water is from wells, forest springs or streams. This water is often turbid or contaminated, and forest guards become very vulnerable to water borne infections like hepatitis, gastro-enteritis and dysentery. These infections can seriously impact the health of our frontline forest warriors and prevent them from effectively discharging their duties. This can also impact our threatened wildlife, leaving it more vulnerable to poaching, etc.
The cornerstone of Project Jal is a gravity-based water purifier, which requires neither running water nor electricity. It is a simple mechanism of two tanks mounted over each other, with a purifying cartridge in between – unclean water is filled into the upper tank, and moves by gravity into the cartridge, which is manufactured using positively charged nano-fibres. The water passing through the cartridge is cleaned of physical, chemical and biological impurities, and safe drinking water is discharged into the lower tank, from which it can be accessed via a tap. The purified water has no residual chemicals, and the tanks are made of food-grade non-toxic material. Each cartridge has a life of 1500 litres, and at the end of its usable life, it has a natural ‘shut-off’ feature, which shuts off the supply of water. The tanks and cartridges can be cleaned easily on a regular basis, and the machines provide a 20-litre storage capacity. Under normal usage conditions, each purifying cartridge can last around three months, after which it can be changed very easily.
We have provided 30 such water filters with additional spare cartridges to Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, whose frontline staff also face similar problems of scarcity of clean drinking water.
What are the challenges that you face as an individual in your quest to make a difference in the area of wildlife protection?
Essentially, Wildlife Protection is entrusted to State Governments, and wildlife habitats and wildlife are under their purview. Individuals cannot play any direct role in wildlife protection, but can only offer support to the State machinery. Some forest officials also do not like individuals who highlight lacunae in wildlife protection, or seek information, or offer suggestions, as such individuals do not have any locus standi as far as the forest departments are concerned. Therefore, it is not easy for individuals to participate in wildlife protection.
What support / cooperation would you like to have from the state and forest department?
They need to be open to the concept of individuals/ organizations who wish to participate in wildlife protection initiatives, such as reporting of suspicious activity, provision of equipment/ facilities for frontline staff, fund-raising for critical activities, etc.
What would be your message to the common people ?
Please consider our wildlife as a national treasure, and our forest staff as it’s custodians. Visit wildlife areas to feel the connection with nature. Be vigilant and report any sign of wildlife crimes, so that quick action can be taken. Consider contributing directly to NGOs for their initiatives that will help wildlife. Keep your lives as eco-friendly as possible, and minimise your carbon footprint.