It is a disturbing photograph: an elephant fleeing across what seems a forest road, her calf on fire as it runs after her, a mob in the background. Taken in Bankura district of West Bengal, it earned brick kiln owner Biplab Hazra the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award handed out by the Mumbai-based Sanctuary Nature Foundation. It captures an important aspect of the development debate.
Conservation of forest land is broadly divided into two approaches: participatory, which sees the relationship between humans and the environment as important, and exclusionary, which separates one from the other. India has adopted the latter. The resultant resentment of those deprived of homes and livelihoods is understandable. And when wild animals stray out of the buffer zone, they can end up endangering lives and crops. This is set against the crucial objective of preserving wildlife and biodiversity.
As the recurring clashes between the courts and various governments—there is currently one underway between the apex court and the centre on the reduction of buffer zones—show, India has yet to settle upon the right approach.