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Banning film on Kaziranga unwise - Deccan Herald
Banning film on Kaziranga unwise
Bengaluru, March 13, 2017, DHNS
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A BBC documentary on the Kaziranga National Park in Assam, titled Killing for Conservation, has become controversial. It faces the charge of presenting a biased picture of the conservation efforts at the park and claiming that much of its success is at the cost of human rights. The government is not happy with the documentary. The environment ministry has requested the external affairs ministry to revoke the visas of BBC journalist Justin Rowlatt and his associates who shot the film and ban their entry into India for five years. The National Tiger Conservation Authority has banned the BBC and disallowed the filming of tiger reserves for five years. The film presents Kaziranga as the park that shoots people to protect rhinos. In spite of the many cases of poaching in the park, it has made a mark in conserving rhinos, whose numbers have increased from a few to over 2,400 in a century. But the documentary says there is a dark and unpalatable side to the story. It cites a number of human rights abuses. The guards have shoot-at-sight powers which are used indiscriminately. Tribal communities are denied livelihood, local people are forcibly evicted and torture and extrajudicial killings take place. It says the rangers shoot dead an average of two people every month.

The basic charge is that the film presents only one side of the truth. The truth in Kaziranga is not simple. It has a difficult terrain and has villages in close proximity. The poachers are better equipped than the rangers and they involve poor villagers in their activities with threats or offer of rewards. The situation is complicated by the presence of criminals and insurgents in the area. The documentary has presented the situation as a battle between the need for conservation and human rights in which human rights takes a beating. Some rights groups have called for a boycott of the park by tourists.

The authorities have also said that the BBC team had sought permission for the documentary on the basis of a false synopsis and that it was not presented for approval. Such complaints have been made earlier also in the case of controversial documentaries. A ban on the film or its maker is not the right step in such cases and may only become counter-productive. An issue has been highlighted by the documentary, perhaps with some exaggeration. The lesson should be that co-operation and participation of local communities is very important in conservation efforts, whether in Kaziranga or elsewhere. If there are lapses and mistakes in implementation, they should be corrected.

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