Friday, November 5, 2010

I must be their scourge and minister...

Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests was in one of his Hamlet moods recently - 'I must be their scourge and minister', he seemed to say, referring to what people have come to regard as a lovable wizard and his friends. Like Hamlet, Ramesh manages to find some fiend lurking behind the curtains, and metes out his summary justice. Unlike Hamlet however, our worthy is completely unrepentant.  

That in that process he has managed to ruffle a few feathers and put his foot in his mouth should surely not matter. What if he goes to China and criticizes our Home Ministry to the embarrassment of the Government? Of what consequence is it if  he will over-rule scientific bodies and impose his own prejudices, like on the Bt Brinjal issue? Or that his own colleague Praful Patel calls him 'obscurantist' for having managed to scuttle plans for a much needed airport at Navi Mumbai? If you think his wrath is limited to airports, think again. Kamal Nath, another of his colleagues has Ramesh to blame for the tardy progress of road building in the country.  

Navi Mumbai airport is not the only project to have got stuck at the environment ministry headed by Jairam Ramesh. Among the ‘on-hold’ projects in and around Mumbai are a helipad for Nariman Point, the Pedder Road flyover, reconstruction of a children’s hospital in Parel, the Kharghar-Taloja link, a Mhada camp at Cuffe Parade and a film studio in Chembur. All told, almost 25 projects in Maharashtra are stuck with Jairam Ramesh's ministry.

It is difficult to believe this IIT-B alumnus understands complex scientific issues, or takes his responsibilities seriously.  How else do you explain the fact that he went to Copenhagen and agreed to match China's emission cuts? Fortunately, he was forced to retract when faced with flak from the PM.

One wasn't very surprised therefore when this time he chose the young and old fans of Harry Potter for his vituperation. "Harry Potter blamed for fuelling India owls' demise", announced the BBC. Almost every news source reported that Jairam Ramesh had said that Harry Potter books and films featuring his feathered friend Hedwig are popular in India and had contributed towards the demise of owls. He was reported to have remarked that there had been an increase in people wanting to buy them from illegal bird traders. 

Very soon, Ramesh's reprimand was being picked up by TV Channels and newspapers not only in India but all around the world. "Harry Potter Fans Are Decimating India's Owls", screamed a Fox News Heading. "Potter blamed for Vanishing Owls", the Brisbane Times informed its readers, and similar sentiments were echoed by the Malaysian Insider and many others.

Having a Harry Potter-crazed teen-aged son myself, I was a bit perplexed, as I had neither seen nor heard of this obsession to own owls. I was also very concerned at what seemed like a morbid fascination. Since the learned minister referred to a research report by Traffic, a wild-life NGO as the source of his information, it seemed prudent to read it. The pdf is available for download here.  

The report sets out to document the illegal trade in owls, and notes that the birds are used in black magic practices. It describes the utilization patterns of the owls, and the various tribes and communities that are involved. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the world's main authority on the conservation status of species. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (also known as the IUCN Red List or Red Data List) is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species. Naturally, one was curious to know the red-list status of these Indian owls, which is provided in the report. 

It came as a huge relief to know that the Red List status of all species of owl recorded for trade within India was Least Concern. This is the lowest list category and means that members of the species are widespread and abundant.

Then how did our Honourable minister manage to set the whole world afire? Because this ignoramus of a minister read nothing but the preface of the report, and that too wrongly. The author of the report mentions that a certain wealthy lady wanted a live white coloured owl to be present at her son's birthday party. Being a minister, perhaps Jairam Ramesh could not help interpreting the word present in the context of a gift and jumping to the conclusion that parents wanted owls to gift their children !!!

Hearty congratulations, Jairam Ramesh, for giving an entirely new meaning to this Edmund Burke quote -' Fraud is the ready minister of injustice'.

Worth watching - how owls put their acute sense of hearing to use while hunting for prey -