Friday, February 05, 2010

Saving Our Tigers: Exploiting a dying animal

Looking at the ‘Save Our Tigers’ campaign evokes a lot of mixed feelings. For the uninitiated, it is a campaign that Aircel has taken out. On one hand, I am happy that there is a lot of awareness that is being created which highlights the plight of our national animal, the most beautiful creature in our forests. On the other hand, I am not too sure if Aircel is in it for the long haul. Would this campaign last for very long?

I believe, if a corporate has come in for a long term then the cause being promoted is honorable. However, if they intend to use the tiger as a way to create goodwill for themselves with a short burst of publicity, then this is simply not done. We have seen, in the past, many celebrities and companies using a burning issue just to promote their films or products.

I do not know how much is being spent by Aircel to protect the tiger. What I definitely do not know is what the way forward with this campaign is. There are a couple of outrageously stupid links on the website that Aircel is promoting–

1) Speak up: This is what the text is on this link – ‘Write a letter or an email to editors of popular newspapers and magazines, asking them to support the cause and highlight the urgency to save our tigers. The more people we can reach and inform, the stronger our roar will be’

What I fail to understand is that why there are no articles by people actively involved in tiger conservation? Isn’t it important to highlight what people like Belinda Wright, Dr. Raghu Chandawat and Valmik Thapar have been writing and doing?

2) SMS, contact an NGO responsible for tigers, Preserve our natural resources, Be a responsible tourist.

Well, all is this utopian rubbish. SMSes do not help stop terrorism, where humans are killed, how is it going to save tigers? What NGOs do we get in touch with? All of us know that we must preserve natural resources and be responsible tourists. This is told to us right from our school days in moral science classes. But, almost all of us buy air-conditioners, use plastic bags without looking at the microns and litter when we travel. What is the use of writing this rubbish?

3) Donate: And here, they have provided a link to the WWF India website to make cash donations.

The third point takes the cake, in terms of stupidity of suggestions. Let me try and explain why.
As per the Project Tiger website, there are 38 reserves in the country which are project tiger reserves. There are other forests too, where tigers can be found, but these are not project tiger reserves. The government gave a grant in the 2009 union budget this year, to protect the tiger.

The generous grant was of Rs. 50 crores. That’s all the union budget of 2009 could spare for the national animal. This means, that just the 38 project tiger reserves would get Rs. 1.3 crores each, per annum to protect the tigers. And what all is needed to have a stronger tiger task force? Here is a very concise list:
  • Equipment to monitor tigers: This includes radio collars etc.
  • More number of people need to be employed to patrol the reserves day and night, so keep poachers out. The reserves are under-staffed and many vacancies are yet to be filled, and even if they are filled up, the number of rangers and forest guards still needs to double
  • Proper fire-arms and weapons: Today, the poachers have more sophisticated weapons than the forest guards. It is the sad truth• More vehicles to patrol the forests
  • Need to create more motorable roads so that the forests can be patrolled and guarded even during the monsoons. Currently, the forests are not guarded for 3 months of the monsoons and 50% of poaching happens then

This is a very small list, probably missing many more things that go in to save the tiger. But would Rs. 50 crores suffice to provide even half of the aforesaid? I seriously doubt it. This is where I find a disconnect. If Aircel is indeed hell bent on saving the tiger, the crores spent on making brand-films and plastering cities with campaigns could have added to the Rs. 50 crores of pittances the govt. has given. It would have done the tiger more good had a few extra equipments been bought out of that money than ensuring that a person in Juhu sees a Save Our Tigers hoarding.

Some may say, Aircel is not into charity. They are in the business of mobile services. That is exactly my point. If they are in a business, then run a business. Do not try and be clever and create awareness about your brand, using the plight of the tiger to your advantage.

And, there are many more pressing issues that concern the tiger’s existence that people need to be made aware of. The biggest issue is the one that concerns passing of the Tribal Bill in the parliament that has literally sounded the death knell for the national animal. Why don’t these corporate houses join hands with Wright and Thapar in revoking that bill?

If, after a few years, we realize that these campaigns about ‘Saving Our Tigers’ has resulted in the govt. waking up, I would take back all my cynical words about Aircel, and write an apology on this very space. I so hope I have to. I hope I am made to eat the pie, the one found in the ‘humble’ bakery, a few years from now. But, in my experience, online petitions and smses do precious little for causes, especially the ones that do not involve rights for some human being.

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