When the management of Mumbai Airport distributed free solar lamps in a tribal hamlet in Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), they hardly expected to draw flak for the initiative, undertaken with the intention of bringing light to the neglected tribal community.
MIAL issued a press release saying the lanterns would help locals fend off night attacks from leopards in the national park. Representation pic/Thinkstock
However, the move backfired and drew criticism from environmentalists, who claim that the press release announcing the initiative had projected leopards in bad light. The press release in question was issued by GVK CSIA, the company that manages Mumbai International Airport Pvt Ltd (MIAL).
Announcing that 100 solar-powered LED lanterns had been presented to the tribal community on May 26, the statement goes on to say, ‘The LED lamps will also help the tribals fend off the threat from big cats such as leopards who literally make a killing of the livestock and human life in such areas due to the darkness.’
While wildlife experts and environmentalists are happy that the tribals — largely deprived of electricity — will finally have a source of light, they are of the opinion that the press statement unnecessarily paints leopards as the villain. MIAL should have used the term man-animal conflict instead, the experts added.
Anand Pendharkar, president of the NGO, Sprouts, praised the company for distributing LED lights that will help the tribals in their daily activities, such as cooking, cleaning and studying, in case of the children. He also agreed that the lights could prove handy in warding off conflict with many creatures, such as snakes, scorpions, centipedes, as well as leopards, especially when attending to nature’s call during the later hours of the night.
However, he emphasised, “I would like to point out that I think the statement ‘leopards are literally making a killing of the livestock and human life in such areas due to the darkness’ is completely misleading, as that seems to indicate that the prime diet of the leopards in SGNP is livestock and human beings. It is one thing to want to support tribals, but one needs to realise that this is a national park, and the right of way and the right to hunt should be to the animals.”
This was echoed by Anish Andheria, the president of the Wildlife Conservation Trust, who said, “The statement has not been framed correctly. Firstly, not all those who live inside SGNP are tribals. They should have said that the LED lamps will help the forest dwellers illuminate the immediate vicinity of their homes, dissuading leopards and other wild animals from entering these areas. This in turn is likely to reduce the probability of man-animal conflict.”
An MIAL spokesperson told mid-day, “The solar lanterns have been distributed to tribals living in the Tumnipada area of SGNP, where there is frequent movement of leopards, which consequently poses a potential threat to the tribals at night. Our intention is to ensure that these tribals safeguard their life and their livestock, and these solar lanterns will help them in this endeavour.”