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Petition to Prannoy Roy, Radhika Roy, Sanjay Nigam, Raj Jain, Anil Uniyal

An Open Letter to Bloomberg Quint and NDTV : Grasslands are Not Wastelands

This open letter was written in collaboration between Think Wildlife Foundation and The Grasslands Trust, to tackle the misinformation being spread about grasslands by esteemed news outlets. Other than being educational, we hope this petition holds the esteemed news outlets accountable for inaccurate reporting! Recently, the Supreme Court ordered the Rajasthan and Gujarat government to shift overhead power cables underground in the Kutch and Thar landscape. The directive was put in place simply due to the colossal loss of life associated with the overhead cables. According to the Wildlife Institute of India, 100,000 birds die due to collisions with power lines in the Kutch Landscape. One species, The Great Indian Bustard, has suffered immensely due to such collisions. With barely 150 individuals remaining, the SC decision has given the species a lifeline. It also reduces the pressures on India's Dying Grasslands.  Unfortunately, on the 15th of June 2021, an article surfaced across various news platforms, spreading substantial inaccurate information regarding the decision. The article titled “A Giant, Poor Sighted Bird Stands in the Way of India’s Green Goals” was first published by Rajesh Kumar Singh on Bloomberg Quint before being reposted by numerous news agencies including the NDTV and Economic Times.  The title in itself vilifies the species. The article also conveniently ignores the 100,000 estimated annual casualties from various species such as raptors and flamingoes. These species play an important role in pest and rodent control and wetland regulation respectively.   However, what is more concerning, is that the author mentions that “wastelands like the bustard’s domain” is essential for India’s green energy goals. This statement is highly inaccurate. The Great Indian Bustard is found in grasslands and it is a common misconception, propagated by both governments and irresponsible reports, that grasslands are wastelands. Despite their immense ecological significance, this misconception has catalyzed the destruction of these sensitive ecosystems through unplanned industrial development, excessive agriculture and unscientific government schemes such as Compensatory Afforestation. In fact, only 1% of India’s grasslands are found in Protected Areas. Meanwhile, 40% of the Protected Grasslands suffer from excessive grazing! On the contrary to what is suggested by the article, the ubiquitous massacre of grasslands is a massive hindrance to India’s fight against climate change! Grasslands are on par, and possibly more critical, than forests in the fight against climate change. Along with oceans, grasslands have the largest carbon sinks amongst ecosystems. With the effects of climate change upon us, these habitats play a crucial role in the absorption of the atmosphere’s carbon. Furthermore, grasslands regulate soil and water tables and prevent soil erosion. Both nationally and globally, societies are suffering from either acute water shortage, or unprecedented flooding. The destruction of grasslands contributes immensely to this! Grasslands also host a large diversity of wildlife. The grasslands of western India alone, host endangered species such as Indian Wolves, Indian Wildass, Bengal Florican, Blackbuck, Vultures Bengal and Desert Fox and Indian Gazelle amongst others. If India’s proposed Cheetah Reintroduction Project is to be a success, the various grasslands across India have to be preserved.  Since the late 1990s, the Subcontinent has lost over 90% of its vulture population. This can be attributed to the indirect consumption of an anti-inflammatory drug, Diclofenac, through livestock carcasses. The removal of the keystone scavenger established breeding grounds for pests, rodents, feral dogs and bacteria, which has created a public health crisis. Fortunately, vulture reintroduction projects have found success. However, the lack of suitable grassland habitat has proved to be a hindrance. With more than 20,000 people succumbing to rabies annually in India, it is in the best interest of the Indian government to preserve grasslands for the revival of vulture populations. Renewable energy is no doubt the need of the hour. In fact, the industry’s growth in India is commendable. However, development of “green infrastructure” should not come at the cost of natural ecosystems, which are at the forefront of our fight against climate change. This is in line with a famous adage - “Prevention before Cure”. Moreover, would the renewable energy sector still be able to boast of its greenness, if it causes bloodshed of an endemic species? That being said, it is disappointing to see acclaimed media houses being so irresponsible with their reporting. The purpose of any journalist is supposedly to educate the general public about issues accurately and in an unbiased fashion. Following the outrage by conservationists, minor amendments seem to have been made to the article. However, the social media handles of the various news channels remain unedited.   

Think Wildlife Foundation
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