Tuesday, 27 December 2016

I Accuse

An open letter to the Chief Minister of J & K on Wild Management Plan for Vandalization of Historical Heritage Farm at Dachigam.

Dedicated to the dumb sheep and their reportedly deaf shepherds, and the oppressed Hangul.

Hon’ble Madam,

“As they have dared, so shall I dare. Dare to tell the truth, as I have pledged to tell it, in full, since the normal channels of justice have failed to do so. My duty is to speak out; I do not wish to be an accomplice in this travesty. My nights would otherwise be haunted by the spectre of the innocent” sheep farm suffering for a crime it did not commit.  “I defy decent men to read it without a stir of indignation in their hearts and a cry of revulsion, at the thought of the undeserved punishment being meted out.” Compelled by my professional obligations wedded to Hippocratic oath and thanks to my long standing interest in environmental movements and thinking, I, based on close reading of much of communication between sheep husbandry and wildlife departments  and especially on the  study of reports from expert committee constituted by previous CM, seek your kind attention to a grave moral, legal, economic and administrative issue with far reaching repercussions to State and its people.  Since there is a widespread apprehension amongst many members of scientist fraternity that in this State experts aren’t heard or heard and unheard, people and their interests are sold cheap,  especially if they are caretakers of the dumb creatures and even CM’s authority is circumvented by oversmart lobbyists in connivance with certain people, I thought it might be worthwhile to have your few minutes of attention that later judiciary or other fora would take months or years to settle at huge cost to the State and stakeholders. Another objective of mine is, to recall Dr. Rieux at the end of Camus’ The Plague,  to write the chronicle of those events so that some record be left of the injustice and violence that had been done in the name of Hangul  against the meek sheep. This will also be our answer to God who will take us to the task for keeping silent or not fighting on all possible legal fronts that influence decision making. And now the ball is in the court of collective conscience of the State whom you officially represent. I begin by accusing:

  • Those who oversaw “desecration” of  Salim Ali National Park and in order to legitimize the same paved way for ransom of sheep farm. A strange qurbani of sheep along with the families associated with them.
  • Those who kept silent on the floor of the house as the  proposal  for shifting sheep farm got approved in a jiffy. How informed were our honourable members who didn’t seek to be better informed and just nodded their heads for clearing the same as if nothing had been done – formatting memory and heritage and playing with ecology, jobs, livelihoods etc.  Selling sheep farm for nothing on a premise that is contestable.
  • Those who keep rehearsing and regurgitating Cabinet decision invoking archaic laws based on outdated science and who invoke law as if it itself is beyond criticism or new formulation."Letter killeth and spirit giveth life.”
  • Those environmentalists who keep silent knowing fully well what is ailing Hangul and how the whole discourse of national parks and state animal is used against people and against legitimate uses of national park, and against Hangul ultimately.
  • Those Kashmir experts who talk Kashmir but don’t notice how extensive and of far reaching consequences is any misinterpretation of national parks discourse on Kashmir economy and culture. We have  around 6000 km2 area under national parks and destinies of huge number of people are linked with  them. If we keep invoking archaic laws and soul denying legalism, we end up injuring people’s economy and wildlife both as exclusionary models have proved counterproductive for both.

To explain why of all these points a few remarks:

  • What has been popularly seen as a dispute between two departments but is really an issue between science and pseudoscience, law and legalism, poor farming community and “green terrorism,” commitment to preservation of scientific and cultural heritage and iconoclastic mindset, civilized discourse and wild bulldozing, members of expert committee and Chairman who, invoking archaic legalism, bulldozes their recommendations. It is an issue that reflects the state of wild governance, dishounuring letter and spirit of cabinet decisions and circumventing CM’s intention to  explore the possibility of coexisting of sheep farm and national park.
  • To cut the long story short, the latest development in decades old “conflict” story of hangulism vs sheep, following Cabinet decision 2005 (taken in the background of Wildlife Department’s sustained misinformation campaign implicating sheep eats Hangul and one of the wildest proposals in ransom politics that stated that National Board for wildlife requires, as a precondition for denotifying certain portion of Salim Ali National Park in which the State authorities had constructed golf course, among other things, removal of historical sheep farm  that has been so central to Kashmiri scientist fraternity and scientific heritage and economy, from another National Park. How the two are connected and how rational or ethical is the proposal is anybody’s guess.  It is like India asking Pakistan to give some land in Lahore (in or around Mazari iqbal) in exchange for some territory on border with Kashmir.
  • Imagine the grounds on which farm is targeted. In the words of Dr. M. K. Ranjitsinh presenting the viewpoint  of National Board for Wildlife “in view the threat to Hangul – the State Animal from the diseases as well as to provide adequate shelter to them in winter when they come down to lower Dachigam.” Relevant experts appointed by government have rubbished both accusations as groundless. The only “ground” now is cut and dry archaic legalism. If we apply the law in the manner interpreted by wildlife authorities, we would require evicting thousands of families along with livestock from the boundaries of many national parks in the State. It would liquidate thousands of jobs sustained by mutual coexistence of people, their livestock and Park resources in and around different State Parks including Hemmis National Park in Ladakh. It would mean, in effect, a war against poor people, farming community, industrial/entrepreneur community and newer inclusive (where people are not alienated but co-opted for/with National Park management) ideas that have emerged following increasing abandonment of exclusionary model in the world.  Invoking 1978 legislation or other decade old views is legalistic archaism. Invoking more than a decade old Cabinet decision in 2016 when the science and world has changed and national park management worldwide is abandoning exclusionary model and adopting inclusive participatory model, especially in periphery of parks and legislations are reviewed in light of expert scientific opinion, is turning clock back. We need laws supported by latest scientific and technical feedback for best management of national parks.
  • The final report submitted by Chairman expert Committee, ex-Forest Secretary has no signatures of other members of expert committee, no reference to minutes of meeting, little consideration of key arguments against the very premise of threat and ransom discourse. All this is to circumvent very explicit expert recommendations for coexistence.
  • The sheep breeding and research farm is one of the greatest heritage buildings of the State post 1947 representing one of the great success stories of State scientists and has hardly a counterpart in the whole of country.  What is Assembly Complex or Civil Secretariat building for democracy is what sheep farm Dachigam is for scientist community and history/heritage conscious community of the State, a shrine of a sort which can’t be desecrated if we honour science and indigenous contribution to science.  Through engineering a new breed Kashmir Merino that has around three times  the key production parameters compared to local sheep it has been foundation stone for the billions of dollar State sheep sector that has been contributing more than 1/3rd of total local requirements and creating many and sustaining thousands of jobs annually. Every State would be proud of it and the country did recognize it by conferring Padamshri to its pioneer Dr G. A. Banday. 
  • Hangul discourse has been needlessly, misleadingly and deliberately linked to sheep farm for facilitating ransom for irregularities in management of Salim Ali National Park (now read as Royal Spring Golf Course) and people too easily think hangul is more important and dismiss sheep without hearing. Sheep is seen by biologists and environmentalists as an ally of Hangul, reduces predation pressure on Hangul by being alternate prey for Hangul predators, different eating physiology and generally speaking more complementary than competitive  behavoiur.
  • International environmental regulations prohibit disturbing animals/new breeds from their original habitat and evicting new breed of sheep from its original habitat which is the farm premises would amount to  breaching the spirit of international laws and treaties to which India is a signatory. 
  • Your Education Minister has been attempting to think about education and heritage. How do you think this laudable attempt gels with the  presence of JCBs and other demolition machinery directed at the prime heritage farm? Don’t you think whether the Farm remains there or not, these buildings and fences should stand as symbols of great achievement of indigenous scientist community. I suggest you consider making it a special spot for educational tourism through an alternate entry point that totally bypasses “ boundaries” of national park. You might consider converting these buildings into G A Banday Memorial Centre for Ruminant Research that could serve hangul conservation in more obvious ways as well though they already do this to certain extent.
  • For  Kashmiri scientist community silence of CM at this stage when historical heritage farm is being vandalized by wildlife authorities will mean that anything goes in Kashmir, even what is against all logic, reason, common sense, science, decency, professional ethics, expert opinions, cabinet decision, CMs orders. This is a test case. If the farm is vandalized to satisfy the collective conscience of some Wildlife officials or as a ransom for denotifying certain portions of Salim Ali National Park (it is golf course that was carved out of National Park) – the State exercises the right to denotify the same but not the area under sheep farm because some Shylock wants a piece of flesh, this time from relative’s body! – it would be a mockery of governance and conservation ethic and science as followed in civilized nations and  a permanent blot on PDP-BJP govt and betrayal of faith in constitution and political system.
  • If we insist on applying Wildlife Act 1978 (it hasn’t been comprehensively reviewed in light of changing realities and challenges and newer scientific  data showing how obsolete is the thinking of the concerned authorities), we are turning clock back.
  • Please recall that Omar Abdullah impressed a big delegation of SKUAST-K and Kashmir university scientists and officers by his appreciation of our plea that a decade old Cabinet decision should be reviewed in light of established scientific and technical data now available. He constituted an expert committee. And if the Forest Secretary who was also Chairman who is no expert himself either of pathology or environmental philosophy or even law as clearly appears in his signed documents (one can see, between the lines, how well meaning efforts of CM could be disingenuously defeated by distorting the system)  has brushed aside explicit recommendations of members of expert committee, one can only conclude that CM should personally revisit the whole issue again.
  • There are many villages with huge livestock populations even in the core areas, not to speak of amputable peripheries of many  national parks inside India. Old policy of exclusion has been practically given up and why we insist it apply in one particular park whose final notification is still pending and that too where heritage farm fully compatible with larger objectives of national parks is situated is beyond question an issue that needs to be reexamined by CM.
  • I am sure, Kashmir will not be this Kashmir always where JCBs attack heritage sites and expert opinion is thrown into dustbin and archaic laws and decades old scientific data are quoted in official communications. We have a will to move forward and one day true accountability will be there that will show us how and why huge amount of money in the name of hangul conservation hasn’t yielded desired results, why primary focus is on fighting imagined ghosts like sheep farm than on predation and other factors that have been  demonstrably responsible for the same. This will judge all those who have been instrumental in misinformation campaign that might lead the State to lose sheep farm along with hangul. That will ask , as Prof. M. M. Willayat said, where was the guarantee that if sheep farm goes, Hangul will come again. That will ask how come we were made to accept the ransom of heritage sheep farm for denotifying parts of another national Park or we can say golf course. That will ask how informed were those who took decisions and chaired meetings on behalf of environment and poor people and  demanded that it is no problem spending 250 crores for relocation that was not needed in the first place according to experts. It will postmortem  every move in  the vandalization of the farm – its forced eviction or destruction by way of adjusting its livestock in other farms as if genetics, new ongoing experimental studies, habitat impact, stress over other farms and changing dynamics of around 56 years of farm management don’t matter.


It is requested you implement what experts say, as against what rival departments say, and review Cabinet decision 2005.  Laws are formulated, renewed, reinterpreted in accordance with evolving dynamics of a host of factors and they aren’t eternal edicts that needn’t be periodically reviewed. It is suggested that Wildlife Laws be made in tune with the realities of 2016.  For the sake of wildlife and hangul in particular, ask your wildlife authorities to be updated and suggest how to revise theory so that practical realities aren’t denied but  accommodated and Utopian legalism – or legalistic fundamentalism – doesn’t  enslave us and ransom politics doesn’t overpower us.

 I wish I had the power of Zola’s pen (and you were French President) whose letter to the French President for reviewing the case against an innocent army official, Dreyfus,  who had been given life sentence against whom whole French army was standing,  overturned the might of the later and Dreyfus was released. Let whole Kashmir debate the case of wildlife against sheep which is in many ways symbolic of powerful Capitalist forces against whole of poor dumb meek people and see dozens – yes dozens – of flaws in the whole case against the farm.

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