Guwahati: Asia-Pacific Forum Environmental Journalists (APFEJ), in the
backdrop of Indian government’s recent initiative to ban a British
Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) scribe on filming in its tiger
reserves, has urged New Delhi to be respectful to the global media
outlets respecting the democratic spirit of the country. The Dhaka
(Bangladesh)-based environment media forum also appealed to the Indian
authority not to think of evoking the British scribe’s visa at any
cost.

It may be noted that the controversy erupted after the  BBC’s south
Asia correspondent Justin Rowlatt prepared a news feature on Assam’s
well-known Kaziranga National Park where he claimed that forest guards
of the abode of precious one-horned rhinos were indulging in extra
judicial killings in the name of conservation.

Rowlatt pointed out that the park, which hosted UK’s Prince William
and Katherine  in April 2016, witnessed the killing of almost two
people per month under the brutal conservation policy since 2013. The
year 2015 witnessed the encounter killings of 23 people in Kaziranga
in contrast to 18 rhinos poached by the criminals.

“Innocent villagers, mostly tribal people, have been caught up in the
conflict (between the poachers and forest guards) and the problem is
mostly because the park rangers are indiscriminate in applying brutal
force, and they are given immunity from prosecution,” said the BBC
feature.

Rowlatt, who lives with his family  in New Delhi, also clarified that
despite his initiative, both the environment ministries in New Delhi
and Dispur (responsible for the protection of forest and wildlife),
the National Tiger Conservation Authority and Assam forest department
did not respond to his necessary queries.

Once the BBC aired the item titled ‘Our World: Killing for
Conservation’ on 11 February 2017, the government and people of Assam
raised serious concern over its content. Various non-government nature
&wildlife protection groups came forward scolding the London based
news channel for propagating a wrong image to Kaziranga to the
international audience.

Encouraged with the development, the Indian authority barred the BBC
journalist Rowlatt from filming in any of India’s 50 tiger reserves
for five years. Later the Union environment ministry even requested
the external affairs ministry to revoke the visas of Rowlatt along
with his associates who shot the film.

But it tempted the global tribal people’s rights body Survival
International to  launch a boycott campaign against the park that
attracts over some 150,000 annual visitors including over 11,000
foreign tourists, till the Kaziranga  authority retains its
shoot-on-sight policy.  It has already written to various tour
operators in western countries to evade Kaziranga that gives shelter
to over 2430 rhinos, 167 Royal Bengal tigers along with other
wildlife.

“We appeal to Survival International to lift the boycott call against
Kaziranga such that the   success achieved by the Indian forest
department is not subdued by the controversy,” said a statement issued
by APFEJ president Quamrul Islam Chowdhury and secretary NJ Thakuria,
adding that Assam forest department should also come out with specific
clarification to the BBC news feature.