Is the country's wildlife safe and secured in the custody of the Ministry of Environment and Forest and the agencies under its wings? We doubt it, especially after the disclosure that the ministry has 'secretly' sanctioned at least five business firms the right to export more than 200 tonnes of endangered flap-shelled spotted turtle. The dubious deal puts a question-mark over not only its competence but also its commitment, which, as it has turned out, is negotiable. It also gives licence to poaching and hunting of wildlife; for, people might start believing that if they could somehow convince the ministry people that they have got some exportable stock of wild animals in their possession, they would be allowed to legally export those. The ministry, one must say, has simply made a mockery of the commitment our government has made before the international community to protect and preserve the wildlife, not to speak of the gazette notification of June 1998 that forbids hunting of all wild animals.

Down from the field inspection up to the final approval, the whole process reeks of corruption and criminality. More conspicuous has been the nonchalance of the officials involved, as if they could not care less about the consequences. They evidently harboured little thought on the havoc their mischief might wreak on the ecosystem or their career if it comes out in the open. The reason is obvious. Nobody has ever been punished for committing environmental crime. In fact, environment has never been a concern for anybody. It is more true for the politicians, ruling and opposition parties regardless. As a result, eco-consciousness has never had the chance to spread its roots in the societal psyche. That's where the question of governmental intervention comes.

Unfortunately, in this particular case, the government itself is the transgressor. There is one bright side about the scenario though. If the law is allowed to take its course in this particular case and officials at different levels of the environment and forest ministry, who are involved, get punished for their aberrations, then it would have a multidimensional effect on the society. People would start believing that crime does not pay, after all.

Source: Editorial, The Daily Star, May 29, 2001.

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