According to a recent report the Madhya Pradesh forest department happened to have re-discovered the Kerwa and Kathotia forests that adjoin Bhopal. A 15-day operation by it with the help of as many as six elephants borrowed from different tiger reserves to track down three tigers that were moving around the jungles helped in the “startling rediscovery”. The officials who participated in the operation, necessarily, on elephant backs went deep inside the forests with a view to catching the tigers to radio-collar them and, later, to relocate them were astonished to find a forest pulsating with life and amazing natural features They, however, inexplicably terminated the fortnight-long operation and returned to base.
The report, quoting a forest official who participated in the operation, said, “The forest is very healthy, it’s a mixed – mosaic forest. It is open, still dense with very good undercover. There are good natural shelters for the animals and some amazing gorges inside the woods...Not much was known about the jungle till we started the operation.” For the three tigers there is, reportedly, a good prey base. Various other animals like leopards, bears, hyenas, jackals, foxes, porcupines, jungle cats and civets were also spotted.
While the findings of the forest officials during the operation have not been officially disclosed one can only surmise the reason for its abrupt termination. There seem to be two possibilities: either the foresters failed to trap and radio-collar the tigers or they were so impressed by the quality of the forest that they gave up the thought of trapping for eventual trans-location of the tigers and decided to allow them to remain where they were in their comfort zone.
But the outstanding revelation by the report cited above is that the Forest Division of Bhopal was unaware of the kind of forest that thrived in its jurisdiction. It is a strange situation where a field forest unit has remained oblivious of the kind of forests it was presiding over and apparently did not care to know or ascertain the assets it was supposed to guard and conserve. And, yet, what is a fact is that without knowing its quality it became passive spectator to the progressive human encroachments in it. Over the years, it did not prevent or even protest against the construction of massive legal institutions like the Law Institute University, the National Judicial Academy and establishment of the Sanskar Valley School in the midst of the jungles under its charge. It also did not prevent the construction of assorted farm houses and mansions of the powerful and influential.
Not only would the ignorance about the quality of the forest seem to be criminal, the passive indifference to the progressive encroachments in it would seem to be more so, which, in fact, amount to dereliction of duty of massive proportions. If it was because of the prevailing will of the bureaucracy or its political masters that wouldn’t mitigate the criminality of the apathy and indifference. Whoever, was responsible had attempted to needlessly colonise a healthy tract of forest for no apparent rhyme or reason in these days of increasingly depleting forest wealth of the country and progressive disappearance of wildlife. After all, there is lot of land available around the city in almost all other directions where these massive institutions could be located.
With such a rich forest and such abundance of wildlife therein no wonder the felines as also other animals come in (often violent) contact with the humans who have encroached into their domain. Quite clearly, it is not they who are straying into human habitation; it is the humans who should not have been where they happen to be in the forests.
Sometime ago I had written about “Bhopal’s elusive leopard”, a wandering leopard that was eventually captured after a week-long effort by the officials of the forest department. It was later released in the Satpura National Park. My piece, published in one of the domestic citizen journalists site (merinews.com – India section; 14th October 2012), had elicited adverse criticism from one of the readers, presumably a member of the forest department of the state of Madhya Pradesh, who found that I had needlessly used the Department as a punching bag. Now that a confession of sorts has come from the forest department about its utter lack of knowledge and awareness of the Kerwa and Kathotia forests, hopefully, the critic will realise that what I wrote was largely true. Not always can the handicaps of the forest department be dished out for its inability to protect either the forests or the flora and fauna they host and shelter.
Now that the Kerwa and Kathotia forests have been found to be rich and vibrant with life the state government needs to include them in a “conservation area” to enable their proper care. Steps need to be taken for their effective conservation, restricting tourism and other avoidable human activities, enabling the inmates of the jungles to be safe and at peace in their own environment. It is not every day that a city finds a lively wilderness next to it; in that manner Bhopal would seem to be so lucky to be so well endowed. (In this connection also see “Bhopal - with tigers in its peripheries”).