An Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer of the 1963 batch, founding director of the Kanha National Park and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) Dehradun, HS Panwar has been chosen to be conferred the Padma Bhushan this year.
HS Panwar spent 10 years as the director of the renowned Kanha National Park and nine years as director of the WII. Described as a ‘man of the field’ and a legend in his lifetime, HS Panwar has been credited with saving the hard ground Barasingha - found only at the Kanha National Park - from extinction.
He spoke to HT about issues concerning conservation and the recognition. What has been your most memorable period in your career in the forest services?
I had two innings at the Kanha National Park. Once from 1967-69, where while holding charge of North Mandla forest division, I also had charge of the area which is now Kanha, and later between 1971-81 when I was the first director of the Kanha National Park. During this period, I had the chance to enlarge the park, work on Barasingha conservation - only 66 Barasingha were left when I joined and the number increased to 200 in some years - and introduce Project Tiger in the reserve. Later, I was selected through the UPSC to set up the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) at Dehradun in 1985 where I served as the director for nine years. These were my most memorable years. What are your views on the conservation versus tourism debate?
I have been a director of WII and director of Project Tiger and have long field innings with experience in research and conservation. I feel that an extreme of either tourism or conservation is not good. It is not a case of either and or, in fact a judicious decision needs to be taken regarding both. In many parks, the core areas, with wildlife rich regions, have become most popular for tourists. Tourism however is a commercial activity where one has to guard against excessive tourism, as the owner may want to exploit the situation to the extreme for his profit. Having said that, I feel since the reserve is set up with money from the taxpayers, they have every right to see it too. How do you rate the reserves in MP compared to reserves in other states?
Reserves are getting more attention in MP than those in other states. Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench are doing well and have viable buffer areas. However MP government needs to do more by way of supporting the buffer areas. Is the forest department in MP working satisfactorily?
MP has a good tradition of wildlife trained officers. However, more investment is required in village relocation, otherwise the effort of conservation could go waste. What happened in Panna can happen again unless the forest department is cautious. While the funds for many conservation activities come from the Union government, the states have to play an active role. Are new protected areas required in MP because post 1980s, hardly any new protected areas have been created.
The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 is a stringent legislation and imposes restrictions on people. In such a scenario, it becomes difficult for governments to create new protected areas. Buffer zone management could be a way out. Describe your feelings when you were told about being conferred the Padma Bhushan?