When I rang up Van Vihar to know how a tiger died, a facetious fellow like me, replied: ‘‘Sir, the tiger committed suicide,’’ and hung up. I tried to contact the Vet Dr Sharma and Dr Bhattacharya, till recently the Director of Van Vihar, but they were not available for comment.
When I contacted a friend, a forester, I came to know that Dr Battacharya had been transferred out of Van Vihar. He had written to the Forest Department some passionate protest letters, firm in tone and tenor, in defence of the dumb inmates of Van Vihar.
Dr Bhattacharya, it seemed, was badly handicapped for out of a staff of six rangers sanctioned for Van Vihar, only two were available to him due to paucity of staff in the forest department, which obviously hampered his ever-increasing work. Even when a third ranger was posted to the Van Vihar, he was not relieved in time despite requests.
Besides, the veterinary Surgeon Dr Sharma, my forester friend claimed, was not as enthusiastic as Dr Bhattacharya was himself about the welfare of the animals, but the Director failed to replace him as the Vet lived among the ‘tigers’ and nobody could touch him.
Thus an officer who worked very hard (some say 12 hours a day), who had put Van Vihar on the international wildlife map, and had ambitious wildlife projects under his wing, was impatient with his department. The same department that hitherto considered him an excellent officer suddenly shifted him from the Van Vihar, for no other reason than his sincere letters that contained substance for thought.
The Forest Department did not even consider the implications of their action, for the work at Van Vihar came to a stand still and the entire work force stood demoralised: The situation reportedly has not improved. But official do not take into account the consequences of such actions, for they are not answerable to any one, in the least to the public.
I do not hold any brief for Dr Bhattacharya, but his thoughts chime with my own on the issue: It is my conviction that only the honest, bold insiders, by commenting on its functioning, can bring about changes in the ‘system’. I seize this opportunity to deliberate on the subject.
Irrespective of the letters that Dr Bhattacharya wrote to his department, one question needs to be answered most honestly: Does the system need reformation/correction? And if it does, who will correct it?
Looking around, we can say with a deep sense of responsibility that all our departments need to be disciplined. Without exceptions all departments have grown so ‘routine-habitual’ that they do not differentiate between the demand for office pins and demand for other essentials.
They are never seized with a sense of urgency on matters relating to life and death and human sufferings, though they display exceptional promptness and concern when they run even petty errands for the VIPs.
Only the insiders, I am convinced, possess information pertaining to the working of a department, with all its weaknesses, deficiencies and gray spots. It is these honest and sincere insiders, like Dr Bhattacharya, who need to be encouraged to speak out.
Such a situation will become a reality only when the higher ups give room to their officers for opinions, and generously overlook their faults committed in their passionate but sincere enthusiasm. Even the British allowed their subordinates to address letters beginning with, “Respectfully, I beg to differ”, to feel the pulse of their administration. Our administrators need to practice this golden rule in public interest and for good governance.
If the system has to improve, and improve it must, insiders will have to be boldly vocal, accountability will have to be established, delays explained, and esprit de corps shelved to handle the shirkers. Our times are fine times indeed where these routine matters have now become our ideals.
The insiders must confront those who bring bad name to their departments: Dr Bhattacharya rightfully reminded his department that situation calls for improvement. Even though he has been shifted for questioning the system, the department by shifting the vet has vindicated his stand, and his discomfitures will surely bear fruits some day.
I do not know how many swallows announce spring, but I am sure that even a solitary bird chirping among the bushes keeps the hopes of spring alive. In the meantime I prefer a dead tiger to a living dog.