August 20, 2001



Missing The Leader
The nation seems to be in the middle of a leadership crisis. An opinion poll conducted by ORG-MARG for INDIA TODAY shows that both Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi's popularity ratings have dropped, leaving the people yearning for a strong leader like Indira Gandhi.

Leaders In Crisis
The INDIA TODAY-ORG-MARG opinion poll last January was Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's wake-up call. He chose to put the alarm clock on snooze and thereby accelerated the decline in his Government's popularity.


    The Paswan
Morse Code
Telecommunications Minister Ram Vilas Paswan has a simple code to win over supporters: fill the advisory committees with his own people, entitling them to a phone connection and free calls.



Is Reliance The
Red Herring
It is now UTI's investment in Reliance industries that is under scrutiny.


Air Battles
Air Chief Tipnis and Defence Minister Jaswant Singh are on a path of confrontation on strategic issues. The logjam threatens to turn serious.





The Jungle File

Away from his desk, a bureaucrat documents the
Northeast's wildlife


  SAFE KEEPER: Choudhury (second from right) at Mizoram's Murlen National Park

A privilege that comes with being a part of the Indian bureaucracy is the access to a vast network of people and organisations. Not to mention the unmatched opportunity to travel to unfrequented places in the country's hinterland. Anwaruddin Choudhury, 42, director of tea, Assam, has both and he uses his good fortune to serve the unsung cause of Indian wildlife. An instance: in 1996 Choudhury, on deputation to the Kohima Municipality, saw a row of unusual items up for sale right outside the town hall. Frogs, rats, deer, birds, a bamboo partridge, a Chinese pangolin and a pig-tail macaque were among the wares being offered to buyers. The women were selling the game brought home by their hunter husbands. Appalled by the sight, Choudhury got in touch with an NGO-the People's Group of Nagaland-and went on to convince the Town Committee to declare a ban on the sale of wild animals in the breeding season.

It seemed strange coming from a man belonging to a family of hunters. But Choudhury's interest in wildlife has always been of another kind. After writing impassioned essays on the environment for his college magazine Choudhury started writing seriously in 1977. By the early 1980s he had embarked on a study of the Northeast's rich fauna. He wrote in the local dailies and conducted baseline surveys in the Bordoibam Bird Sanctuary and the East Karbi Anglong Sanctuary. "Today, with access to the Internet, even my home is like a laboratory," says Choudhury.

To reach the masses he produced low-cost posters in various dialects during his many postings in the outlying districts of Assam. His involvement with different organisations also helped enlarge the scope of his efforts. In 1995, as chief executive of the NGO Rhino Foundation for Nature, his team discovered that the field forest staff involved in anti-poaching activities in the Kaziranga National Park were often forced to go barefoot to remote camps, without warm jerseys in winters and raincoats in monsoons-at times without drinking water. This group of well-wishers furnished the staff with basic amenities and with wireless communication facilities, motorcycles and motorboats. The result: rhino poaching in Kaziranga has come down from more than 25 a year till 1996 to less than 10 now.

Choudhury's travels have enabled him to act the good samaritan in other ways too. Ten years ago he came across Sarsing Rongphar, a 50-year-old Karbi tribal who killed wild animals and sold their flesh for a living. Choudhury persuaded Rongphar to give up hunting and got him a job with the Forest Department. Another interesting encounter was with the priest of the Lumpo Gompha in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. Some of Choudhury's enthusiasm rubbed on Lama Pema, the priest, and today his posters adorn the walls of the monastery. Pema, an artist himself, now paints birds and animals to educate villagers about their surroundings.

Choudhury has to his credit some authoritative works on the wilds of the Northeast. His comprehensive checklist on the birds (1990) and mammals (1994) of Assam bridged a gap of almost a century since A.O. Hume and Stuart Baker first compiled their lists. His notable field works include surveys of the white-winged wood duck in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and of the gaur (Indian bison) in the Northeast. He also discovered a new crane migration route across the Mishmi Hills in Arunachal Pradesh-all the earlier known routes were through north-western and northern India. "I only wish more bureaucrats took advantage of the chances government service offer of exploring and popularising the cause of Indian wildlife," says Choudhury.

A PhD on the primates of Assam behind him, Choudhury is currently pursuing a Doctor of Science degree from Gauhati University. The hope of uncovering other unexplored ecological hotspots in the north-eastern region drives him on. "My agenda also includes Bhutan, eastern Nepal, southern Tibet, north and western Myanmar and eastern Bangladesh," he says. That's some project for this man on a singular mission. But his convictions, having already brought him this far, may take him all the way.




Time To Act
First ever theatre appearance of Twinkle Khanna in India! screamed the invite. Important point not mentioned: All The Best, performed at Delhi's Kamani Auditorium last week, also starred three talented actors who go by the names Vrajesh Hirjee, Iqbal Azaad and Raghvendra Sharda.

Looking Glass

Delhi Film Festival:
Cinemaya Festival of Asian Cinema

Delhi Bar: Tusker


    Web Exclusives

Clinical tests of a controversial drug at a Kerala cancer institute exposes the vulnerability of the medical field to a larger malaise. An investigation by INDIA TODAY's Special Correspondent M.G. Radhakrishnan in
Trial And Error



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