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Staying close to wildlife

City-based Naveen Kumar N M is a multi-faceted character who does what he loves. “The purpose of life is not to earn but to contribute something to the society that has given us so much. For me, the best way to contribute is to serve the nature and wildlife meaningfully,” says  Naveen, a wildlife warden, politician, a great academician and a businessman… the list is endless. Naveen has special consideration towards the nature, wildlife and also been actively extending his support to all people and tribals. 

Naveen, son of politician and MUDA Chairman Mohan Kumar, is popular amongst people and forest officers of Bandipur and has gained much appreciation from tribal and localites living near Bandipur for his continued efforts to protect the forest reserves.

He did his schooling from St Jospeh’s Central School and pre-university and graduation from Marimallappa’s College. Hailing from a family of politicians, Naveen’s interests are on unexpected lines. He was a class representative and was a leader throughout his school and college days. He was also leader in several unions and also led NSUI during his PU days. He has a good sports record too and was the first from Mysuru to get Japanese black belt from International Okinawa Shorinryu Seibukan under Sensain Shiva Das. He also has a great passion for horses and is a member of the Police-mounted Horse Company.

 His entry into politics was by choice. “Certain things are inborn and one such thing is I always wanted to be people’s man, address their problems.” Naveen is presently the general secretary of Youth Congress Mysuru and Kodagu and has been appointed as AICC observer to Goa.

 

His passion for wildlife is beyond explanation. He tells wildlife has been his greatest indulgence. When he was studying in 3rd standard, he went to Bandipur forest along with his parents. Lo! He fell in love wildlife instantly. He says, “I don’t have liking for artificial things and the orientation and passion towards wildlife came so naturally and it was like magnetic attraction.”

 During his early days, Naveen was the member of Mysuru Zoo Youth Club and he was quite active too. He was taken to field visits to Bandipur and Nagarahole in recognising animals, trees, handling snakes and learnt about  threat to wildlife. This helped him understand forest, wildlife better and his love for wildlife also grew.

Naveen believes best way to serve is to understand nature. In 2012, he was appointed as the honorary wildlife warden to Chamarajanagar district comprising Bandipur Nature Park, BRT Tiger Reserve, MM Hills Tiger Reserve and Kaveri Wildlife Sanctuary. In his five-year term, he was able to protect and prevent poaching and clandestine trade in wildlife and has played a significant role in hunting a man-eater tiger. He has also addressed various grievances of localites and tribals.

Naveen also holds a good academic record. He has completed his Master’s of Science in Management and Public Policy from London University and also has completed International Political Economics from London School of Economics. He has been invited as resource person in various universities and has been actively delivering lectures at various venues.

Who is a wildlife warden and what are the criteria for appointing him?

Section 4BB of the wildlife protection act 1972 has created this statutory post. This is a gazetted appointment and the names are finalised by the Chief Minister. The major criteria is to have deep involvement and knowledge in wildlife, the person should be free from all monetary and commercial interests in wildlife and most importantly as per the act he should be of public standing. He must have a voice and capacity to muster public support towards the cause of wildlife protection.

What are the duties of an honorary wildlife warden?

The foremost duty as per the central government notification is protection and prevention of poaching and clandestine trade, illicit smuggling of wildlife, its parts and forest produce. Apart from these duties we have the responsibilities of enlisting the support of people especially the local population towards the cause of wildlife conservation.

How is the cooperation from the forest officers?

It’s a mixed bag. Some of the officers feel that the wildlife warden, who is well qualified, articulate and who voices his opinions strongly is a stumbling stone in their path. This is primarily because they have certain interests (say monetary) which gets affected when such wildlife warden gets accessed to national parks and witness their nefarious activities, which other common people can’t see as the entry into the forest itself is regulated and also prohibited. However I have been fortunate to work with dedicated officers having high concern for wildlife and forest and have rendered their highest support to my cause in me carrying my duties and responsibilities.

What have been the highlights and achievements during your tenure?

Have been involved in detecting and reporting many cases of sand smuggling, timber smuggling, cases of elephant poaching, money laundering and illegal activities and unfortunately these are carried out by those officers who have to protect the national park.

 What has been the most challenging operation which you have involved in?

 The most challenging operation for any wildlife warden would be to handle the issues of ‘Man- Animal conflict’ since this involves a conflict between the economic and life interests of hundreds of people on one hand and on the other hand the plight of wild animals. Amongst such incidences has been handling of man-eating tigers in two cases _ one in Maddur and another in Yediyala.

 Can you describe one of the typical operations you have been involved in and how do you manage with the local villagers?

 Typically when one or more human beings are killed by a tiger, all the irate villagers gather in mobs of thousands and put tremendous pressure on the forest officers and stage protests including threats to burn down the forest. This is a complex situation that needs to be handled carefully. I am of the opinion that no conservation effort would succeed if we do not maintain good relationship with villagers and leaders around such wildlife habitats.  

Management typically involves explaining with confidence especially by first roping the leaders of the affected region in communities, such a process involves heated arguments and allegations expressing of personal vandalise and also foul mouthing at concerned officers. Such situation demands infinite patience and also the power authority and the capability to influence convince and change their mind-set towards the interest of the wildlife even under such precarious situation.

Where do you see the link between your political background and wildlife conservation?

Being in mainstream politics and also having studied about public policy helped me better appreciate the empirical ground reality of any situation. Like I always emphasised it is because of the vision of political stalwarts like Indira Gandhi and others that every national park or reserves in this country came in to existence besides the wildlife protection act of 1973. Both the UTCA and STPF were also the resultant of the UPA government initiatives under the chairmanship of Dr Manmohan Singh.

What is the direction you envisage in future of conservation and your politics?

In this regard, I would like to draw attention to the World Bank concept of good governance. The most prominent amongst the good governance principle is participative governance wherein the local people especially the stake holders should not only be taken in to confidence but must be a part of every conservation effort and also in the framing of policies which affects their life and livelihood. I emphasise this because when the very livelihood of the local villagers is affected it will be impossible to gain any result on the conservation front. Coming to my political career front, I see both politics and conservation as two faces of same coin. At the end of the day, both involve the cooperation and involvement of people. Politics is and will be my career and wildlife conservation my passion. I would earnestly strive to take both of them hand in hand together. 

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