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Home >Opinion >Online-views >An open letter to Amitabh Bachchan

Subject—The flamingoes of Gujarat need your help!

Dear Amitabh Bachchan,

The nation watched in awe as you urged viewers to breathe in a bit of Gujarat, adorning the colourful look of a Rabari tribal, wandering through a moonlit Rann of Kutch. Your campaign as ambassador for Gujarat Tourism is said to have pushed up traffic to the state’s iconic destination by huge margins. Shot over 17 destinations across three years, your Khushboo Gujarat Ki campaign, I am told, has proved to be a turning point for the state’s tourism industry.

However, unknown to many, the same Rann of Kutch where you shot this ad campaign is today in peril. A road is being constructed here, which will slice through the world’s largest breeding site for the graceful pink flamingoes that flock here every year. The greater flamingoes come here in the hundreds during August-October. After breeding, they leave by March-April along with their grown-up chicks. You may have seen these birds visiting your city Mumbai as well, but the colony in Kutch is so big that it’s known as Flamingo City.

As you nudged us in your campaign to visit this beautiful corner of Gujarat, the environment ministry has given the nod to the road that was rejected with a firm no by some of the best wildlife experts in the country. In 2011, a three-member expert team from India’s top wildlife body, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), asked the project be rejected because of its far-reaching deleterious impact on one of India’s best wilderness areas. “The team is of the considered opinion that if the proposed road is allowed to be constructed, India would lose the only breeding site of flamingoes, which in turn could spell doom to the population of these birds in the Indian Subcontinent," it said in its report.

And yet, clearances have been given to this road. Must every inch of India be tarred and paved for tourists, overthrowing the expert opinion of some of the best wildlife experts in the country? What do you say?

As you must have been aware when you were filming there, the Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary (KWS) is home to rare ecological and archeological wonders. The region is home to a host of endangered species like the Indian wild ass, Great Indian Bustard, Indian wolf, caracal, desert fox and desert cat—all jewels of this rugged and extreme landscape. Also found here are the mangroves of Shravan Kavadia, a rare kind of mangrove found nowhere else in the world. The region is also of great archeological importance, containing ruins of the ancient city of Dholavira, which was part of the 5,000-year-old Indus Valley Civilization. You must be aware of this already; I am told you stayed in old circuit houses and remote places when you were filming for the Gujarat campaign.

All of this is now at stake. You may ask why an unassuming road should cause any damage to wildlife or the birds? Here’s what the report of the expert team of the erstwhile NBWL that visited the area said, “The flamingoes build their ‘city’ in the Sanctuary dependent upon the quantum of rain, which itself shows the importance of fresh water influx which has not been taken into account in the dynamics of the proposed road. The impounding of water which is inevitable, will not only affect the building of the flamingo ‘city’, but it would also seriously affect the food chain of the marine ecosystem, which is the very basis of the location of the Flamingo City."

The road will not only cut through Flamingo City, it will also threaten the archaeological ruins that you have been so proudly espousing in your advertising campaign. Construction of the road will impound water, impact the fragile fresh water-saltwater balance, and that in turn will negatively affect the food chain that draws such huge flocks of flamingoes, rosy pelicans and so many other bird species here to Kutch. The entire landscape of the Rann of Kutch that right now makes it so magical will be affected.

As for the road, the reason given for construction is that it is for the Border Security Force. Yes, the defence needs of the nation must come first, but did you know that there is an alternative route suggested by the experts which would be less damaging to wildlife, more feasible for construction, which has not been considered? In fact, according to press reports, this project is nothing but a cover for promoting and expanding tourism in the region as this road is 30-40km away from the border with Pakistan. That’s why the flamingoes and denizens of the Rann of Kutch need you.

You have always been sensitive to the cause of wildlife. I hope you will take up this cause, as your word will be taken seriously by the policymakers. The flamingoes need you. So let’s breathe in a bit of Gujarat, but please let’s give some breathing space to wildlife as well.

Hoping for a reply,

Your humble fan

Bahar Dutt

Bahar Dutt is a conservation biologist and author of Green Wars—Dispatches from a Vanishing World.

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