In Conversation With: Tiger Activist Ajay Dubey

The Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily banned tourism in important areas of tiger reserves. The move came after Ajay Dubey of the nongovernmental organization Prayatna filed a petition with the court last year in an effort to save tigers, which are a national symbol in India. Although the big cats’ population appears to have increased the last few years, their shrinking habitat remains a cause for concern. Mr. Dubey, who is based in Bhopal, spoke to India Ink on the phone about his petition and why it’s important to support “tiger rights.”

Q. Why did you file this petition?

A. I think it’s important to protect tigers because of the continual downfall of the tigers – there are only 1,700 tigers in India. In order to protect them, I filed this PIL [public interest litigation]. We welcome tourism, but it should be under certain rules and regulations.

Q. Why do you think your particular petition is going to help tigers?

A. We just want implementation of the Wildlife Act, honestly. Under Section 38, the law says that critical tiger habitats, the core areas, should be kept inviolate of human activities. It’s very important to implement this act because tiger conservation is more important than tourism.

Q. Some critics say that keeping tourists out will give poachers free rein, that tourists keep an eye on tigers. What’s your response to that?

A. That’s an interesting point. Poachers have been very actively wandering these last years. When tourism was allowed, how were these poachers working? It’s difficult to understand how we just have 1,700 tigers.

Q. What are the fundamental problems of tiger conservation in India?

A. We’re asking the Supreme Court to implement the tiger conservation plan, which will help effective tiger conservation. Nobody is concerned with the tiger conservation plan. Any tiger reserve will get to operate legally only after notification of the core and buffer areas. Tourism is allowed only in buffer areas. There should be zero tolerance of tourism in core areas. The tiger is a shy animal, and I don’t think anyone has the right to violate tiger rights. I want to say more things, but the matter is sub judice.

Q. What has the Supreme Court said so far?

A. The Supreme Court has issued interim orders, and the next hearing is on Aug. 22. The Supreme Court has asked all states to submit their objections regarding the proposed tourism policy.

Q. Is tourism in the core areas the only problem when it comes to saving India’s tigers? What are the other problems?

A. After the final verdict I will say more things. I think there’s poor implementation of the Wildlife Act in India. In India, a tiger cannot give a vote to politicians, and a tiger cannot give a bribe so a tiger doesn’t have rights. We want capital punishment for poachers. There are only 1,700 tigers in India. We’re accountable to our future generations.

Q. The implementation of the law has been described as impractical. For instance, won’t villagers who live near the critical tiger habitats have to relocate to other areas?

A. I think it’s the responsibility of the state government to keep a check on the rehabilitation process [of villagers]. It’s the duty of the state to rehabilitate them. We have to respect tigers. People should respect that tiger conservation is important, and we have to make some sacrifices. I think a lack of awareness is the reason why people are opposing the rehabilitation. We should be ready to sacrifice. We must respect tiger rights.

Q. The rehabilitation of villagers has been reported to be happening very slowly.

A. If the government is slow, one must go to court.

Q. It’s also been reported that if people are banned from critical tiger habitats, traffic should also be banned from cutting through those areas. Your thoughts?

A. I’m not aware that there’s a traffic problem in these areas. It depends on case to case, but after thorough examination, it should come up for approval by the concerned authority. Let them take action according to the rules.

Original Story: NYTimes, India Ink