In a first, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) may be banned from protected forest areas in India for five years for a "breach of trust". The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has appealed to the environment ministry to have this demand executed, while serving a notice to the BBC.
Last month, reports emerged of a tiff between the BBC, especially its South Asia correspondent Justin Rowlatt, who has made a documentary showcasing controversial conservation policies practised at the Kaziranga National Park, and the NTCA.
Rowlatt's documentary, called Our World: Killing for Conservation, alleged that those running the national park in Assam, best known for protecting one-horned rhinos, have standing order from the powers that be to shoot poachers on sight. Apart from exercising such uncontrolled power, locals accuse them of torturing, harassing and attacking them, often on false charges of trespass and poaching.
The documentary left the Kaziranga authorities red in the face. The director of the park, Satyendra Singh, said the BBC had misrepresented its policies, which does not at all encourage shoot at sight. In spite of his denial, the numbers seemed to tell a different story: in the last 20 years, against 106 poachers were shot dead, only one guard has been killed while on duty.
Apart from misreporting, the NTCA has accused the BBC of "hoodwinking" it into getting permission to shoot the documentary at Kaziranga. The initial concept note presented to clear approvals reportedly deviated substantially from the final cut of the movie.
The show-cause notice served to Rowlatt, a copy of which DNA newspaper claims to have acquired, says he used "spasmodic events as an umbrella to judge a gamut of conservation efforts that go into safeguarding our wildlife heritage, with scant understanding of the laws in place". Rowlatt has already defended himself by saying there was no attempt to deceive anyone in his documentary and as a journalist he felt it was his duty to investigate the allegations levelled by the locals against the park authorities.
Rowlatt, who lives in Delhi with his wife and four children, may have to go back to London if his visa, which is up for renewal, is not extended. Currently travelling, he hasn't yet responded to the latest development.
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