August 1, 2019

As Tiger Numbers Soar, Indian Prime Minister Bats for Economic Development

The world is not coming to an end. At least not for tigers. Despite claims in doomsday reports last month, tigers are thriving and not in danger of extinction.

By Vijay Jayaraj

The world is not coming to an end. At least not for tigers.

Despite claims in doomsday reports last month, tigers are thriving and not in danger of extinction.

India has officially released tiger census data. India’s tiger population is now 2,967 (2018), up by a third since 2014 and double what it was in 2006.

“The results of the just declared tiger census would make every Indian, every nature lover happy,” declared the Indian Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi. He added, "In five years, the number of protected areas increased from 692 to over 860, community reserves from 43 to over 100.“ 

 The tigers’ success story and the increase in protected areas are legitimate reasons to celebrate. But Modi’s take on the issue did not stop there.

In his speech and tweets, Modi addressed a very important issue: how conservation relates to economic development in India.

The PM stressed that environmental care is possible, and easier, when the country progresses economically.

Referring to what he called "a very old debate” over “development or environment,” he turned his attention from tiger numbers to the dominant radical environmental viewpoint that considers development an enemy of conservation.

Many now equate “conservation” with no economic development at all. Radical environmental groups are infamous for blocking development projects across the globe in the name of conservation.

The PM questioned this radical attitude, tweeting, “I feel it is possible to strike a healthy balance between … development and environment. In our policies, in our economics, we have to change the conversation about conservation.”

He further clarified that India will not compromise its development goals based on the false and baseless notion that a healthy environment is not possible alongside development.

“I am confident that: India will prosper both economically and environmentally. India will build more roads and India will have cleaner rivers. India will have better train connectivity and also greater tree coverage,” he said.

Modi is right, and it was exactly what the country with 300 million poor people needed to hear at this critical juncture in India’s economic growth. In fact, that is the need of the hour in almost every developing country. Radical environmentalism has promoted false fears about species extinction. Adherents believe that economic and industrial progress is dangerous for our environment.

They have also promoted lies about how climate change is driving millions of species to extinction.

The case of tigers in India is just one example of others that go against the hypothesis. Most species collapse is due primarily to illegal hunting and illegal deforestation.

India’s rapid economic growth, with a large number of development projects, and its simultaneous efforts at increasing its tiger population show that we can protect wildlife without compromising economic growth.

For true nature lovers like me, human beings are an integral part of nature. Environmental care includes human well-being. Any policy that makes millions of poor die by depriving them of access to development and infrastructure is environmentally unsound.

Tiger numbers will only go up from here, barring the spread of some disease specific to the species. The tiger story might soon be a reality for other species across the globe, if the Indian model of conservation — as a symbiotic partner with economic development — is duly considered in the approach to conservation, especially that of endangered species.

Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), Research Associate for Developing Countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in Bangalore, India.

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