Friday, July 06, 2012

Narcondam Hornbill: My letter to Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan MoS Environment & Forests

26 June 2012

Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan
Minister of State for Environment & Forests (Independent Charge)
Chairperson, Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife
Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India
Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO Complex, Lodi Road
New Delhi 110003

Dear Smt. Natarajan,

Sub: Narcondam Hornbill

I write to you, as I am concerned about the future of the ‘Endangered’ Narcondam Hornbill Aceros narcondami. I glean from the media that there is a proposal from the coast guard to set up a manned radar station and supporting power generation plants on Narcondam Island, citing security of the nation as their prime, and laudable reason.

Members of the NBWL would, no doubt, have apprised you about the inherent fragility of island ecosystems. I would just like to emphasise that Narcondam Island is so small a rock, comprised of such a shallow surface of volcanic soil, that any violation of its ecology by an alien invasive species, whether by design or by accident, is almost certain to trigger a cycle of events that might spiral towards disaster for its denizens. The coast guard’s proposal is a recipe for such a catastrophe, given the nature of the project, the size of the entire island, and the natural diversity at stake: construction crews, feeder roads, clear-felling, support staff, maintenance crews, accessibility infrastructure, etc. The possibility of unwanted seeds of weeds, like parthenium or lantana, reaching the island via construction sand is very real. The aftermath of such an eventuality is scary. You know that Narcondam Island suffered an explosion of feral goats in the recent past. This menace has been controlled with great difficulty, and the island’s vegetation is slowly recovering from their depredations.

What will happen to the endemic hornbill, which does not exist anywhere else on Earth, if its unique island home becomes another cog in the machinery of human civilization? India has the proud and immense responsibility of ensuring its safety in its present pristine state of existence, for we are answerable to ourselves and to future generations as to how we treat our planet. How will we justify the strange paradox that we erected this large eye to spy on the world, while we lost sight of what was in our backyard?

Dear Madam, the greater issue here is not the security of the state, but the safeguarding of a unique life form, evolved over millennia, super specialised to exist upon that single dot of terra firma called Narcondam Island. I am sure that if your ministry unequivocally upholds Narcondam Island as inviolate, you would not only nudge the coast guard to look for appropriate locations elsewhere, thus fulfilling their security concerns, but also ensure the continued existence of an exquisite form of life unique to a part of India—an enduring legacy indeed.

Thanking you,

Yours truly,

Aasheesh Pittie

Trustee, New Ornis Foundation
Editor, Indian BIRDS

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