"Glory lies in the attempt to reach one's goal and not in reaching it " ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Environment Mailbag - 1
Read mails to Bittu Sahgal, expressing environmental concern, along with his response to them. Click HERE to send your feedback.

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Dear Bittu,

I just read your excellent article Every Breath You Take and I am appalled and I would like to know how I can be of some help, besides subscriptions to Sanctuary as a gift (which I am sending separately). I lived in Mumbai till 1979 and visit often. I am an environmental scientist and attorney.

Gaurang Sheth

Bittu's response:

Dear Gaurang:

Thanks for your lovely message. Sanctuary magazine is fast becoming the voice of hundreds of thousands of people who care about nature, but may not be in a position to devote their entire lives to protecting it. Frankly, I look forward to the day when all humans incorporate environmental protection into their everyday ethos... we will then have no need for a special "environmental movement."

Warm regards,

I liked Bittu Sahgal's article, Tuskers in Trouble on the threat to the elephants as a result of the Sankosh river project in North Bengal and the Bhutan border.

Yogendra Yadav
Country: India

Thanks for the excellent articles on the Ocean. These kind of commentaries are very helpful and enriching. They further make India Travelogue very valuable and fun to read. Hope you will satisfy our continued thirst for knowledge.
Thank you.

Amit Roy
Boston, Massachusetts.

Dear Bittu,

I was reading on the samachar about the world wilderness congress meeting which just concluded its six day session. This is really heartening to know that the WWF is finally turning the spotlight on the plight of the disappearing native wildlife like cheetah. Due to widespread destruction of the forest and foliage in most of the wilderness of India , the animal life which is directly and indirectly dependent on the vegetation is also disappearing.

I am a veterinarian by training and profession. Even though I only deal with dogs, cats, small domesticated mammals etc., the welfare of the vanishing wildlife due to poaching, encroaching human habitations, and unwarranted massacre of animals is very troubling. It is so easy to be sitting in the comfort of my home and office in Las Vegas and lamenting on the loss of animal life. It is a courageous thing to be raising this issue at the national and international levels, and working towards some positive solutions, and I really commend you for that.

Dr. Sanjay Verma

Bittu's response :

Dear Sanjay:

Like the diversity in a forest, we must each represent our own unique talents.

It is the diversity of our intent and our thinking that makes this world a better, safer place. Your work as a vet is as vitally important as mine is as a communicator and a ringer of alarms. Incidentally, at the Sixth Wilderness Congress much more than the Cheetah was discussed.

I have just returned from this conference, which I understand was virtually boycotted by several individuals ( Ashish's reason, namely his objection to the venue of a five star hotel, I respect and understand). There can be little doubt that all large meetings such as this have limited value in terms of immediate battles. But abstaining from such meetings for reasons other than pressing alternative programmes, in my view, is a mistake. Medha Patkar, Anil Agarwal (who is said to have supported trophy hunting in India! I did not attend his session) and scores of others seemed to agree with me on this for they came to share their views, though they had radical differences with the agenda of the organisers.

In any event, the long and short of it is that in the course of the four days that I was there two major issues emerged:

1.The Indian conservation movement as represented by the largest organisations and by the MoEF itself, is pitifully unaware of the fact that they have been outplayed on the conservation chess board by the development gang because they (the conservation groups) continue to play "tiger-tiger" games against poachers and villagers, while the real enemies of wildlife and the protected area (PA) network plot to invest nearly 1,00,000 crore rupees in ecologically fragile habitats (roads through Srisailam, mining in Balphakram, Turial Hydroelectric Project in Mizoram that has sanctioned the clear felling of ONE MILLION trees, 400 coal mines in Hazaribagh's tiger forests between Bihar, Orissa and M.P., power lines through the Madhav National Park, International Steamer Channel through the Sundarbans etc.). The World Bank is of course at the very head of the predators on natural India and its hundreds of traditional cultures.

2. The human rights and social activist groups have been unable to answer to the challenge we threw at them six months ago -- to point out even one resonably extensive (1,000 sq. km) wilderness and forest culture they have been able to save in the past 50 years, without resorting to the use of either the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, or the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980. In such circumstances much of the legitimacy of their criticism of these acts has been blown away, though there is no doubt at all that fine-tuning the acts is imperative to prevent their abuse by commercial forces who use tribal communities as a front to insinuate their own profit agenda.

This is a short extract from the paper I presented to the Plenary. The full paper (6,000 words) can be sent to those who ask for it as a text file, or a MS Word file.


Re: Young Dreams by Bittu Sahgal

Dear Sir,

Once again you have written a superb article on a subject that is very much the concern of modern day parents like myself. We just sit and watch helplessly as children are deprived of the natural wonders. Their school bags are literally a burden they are carrying. When I compare their childhood to mine, I pity them their lack of physical exercise and fresh air, thanks to the merciless portion. And how is this going to benefit them in their future life ? My kids hate school and ask me 'What is the use of all this mugging and regurgitating?'. I have no answers.

My 12 year old son is in the boy scouts and as I read your article about the Borivili Forest I wish he couldd have joined you all in the expedition to the forest. Watching them struggle with an education system that is hopelessly outdated I wonder what we can do ? How do we as parents help change what is beyond our control ??

Your words echo the thoughts of many parents like myself:

I could not help but wonder at the manner in which we are moulding our children. Condemned to grey classrooms, monotonous lessons and artificial competition to score higher marks than others, we are stealing exultation from them in the very best years of their lives. Why must the simple joys of life be such rare gifts? Where is the gentleness, the sense of community, the search for inner peace, which should routinely be a part of every child's ethos?

Last night I watched my son enjoy a program about insects on Discovery channel and as I nagged him to finish his home work I thought 'If only he could see them in their natural surroundings' . Wishful thinking?

Bye for now and pray that we can bring about a change in the lives of numerous children across the country.

Noor Fatima Rahmatullah

Bittu's response :

Dear Noor Fatima:

Thank you so much for you message. The truth is that children are the very purpose of all our lives and yet look at the way "developers" are destroying their world. Nuclear reactors, deforested slopes, poisoned seas... what will we think of next.

When I am feeling really down and the purpose begins to slip from my being... I seek children out to talk to and I feel rejuvenated again!

Thank you.



Dear Bittu,

Reading through your article (Gandhi: A Man Before His Time) makes me proud that our motherland has visionaries and writers like you. I agree with your views 95%. I would like to add though that 3 years ago I heard exactly the same views from an official of RSS of India. I know you personally may not agree with the RSS ideology, but I must say: I was impressed by Mr. Madan Devi, Joint Secretary , RSS India, just as much as I am impressed by you.

Keep up the good work and I pray to God that some of your writing skills rub off on me.

Sunil Modi, New York, USA

Bittu Sahgal replies:

Dear Sunil

You may be thousands of miles away, but your heart says it all! Thank you. I feel good being supported. It spurs me on because I know I can't be far off the track if guys like you endorse even part of what I perceive to be the truth.


As for the RSS, I think there are many things they say that everyone would agree about. The trouble is that when such bodies become politicised and intolerant the combination is bad for all of us.

Thanks a million again,

Bittu Sahgal,
Editor, Sanctuary Magazine,
602, Maker Chambers V,
Nariman Point,
Mumbai 400 021
Fax: +91 (22) 287 4380
Email: bittu@giasbm01.vsnl.net.in

Hi, Bittu,

I am a simple NRI in Singapore, and was very touched reading your lovely article on Gandhi, a man ahead of his time. I too am part of a growing number of people who has seen and been disillusioned by what has been touted as "progress" at the expense of god-made invaluable resources. I too question the logic of a defining "a rich developed country" in terms of raising what god has given us to the ground and replacing it with ugly man-made concrete structures. Anyway the purpose of writing this is whether you have any magazines,groups which have similar views, and if so I would like to contribute both monetarily and with time and resource.

Thanks and warm regards

Karl, Singapore

Dear Sir,

I read your article on Gandhiji in IndiaTravelogue dated 2.10.98 and I think it is very well written. May your tribe increase. I wish more people in India thought this way. Especially the bit about flying the flag at half mast rather than celebrate. The money spent on the meaningless celebrations could have been better utilised.

Even as expats we don't change our attitudes, there are many organisations but each one is trying to establish itself rather than work for a common goal.


More power to your pen Sir !


Noor Fatima

Bittu Sahgal's response:

How do I begin to tell you how wonderful it feels to have your views ratified by sensitive people. When you fight tough and uphill battles as I seem fated to do, self-doubt begins to creep in. How can I be right all the time and Prime Ministers, bureaucrats, businessmen and such like... always wrong? Then along comes ratification of the kind I received in response to the Gandhi article... and I know my direction is right... so I redouble my effort.

Thank you.
Bittu Sahgal

Hello Bittu,

The article 'A man before his time' on the occassion of Gandhi Jayanthi is well written. And there need not be any mystery about "Apart from their resources, we also stole from the proud people of India that one asset so vital to the human spirit -- dignity. It is a mystery to me how we have managed to absolve ourselves of responsibility for such crimes". And I feel that is the legalisation of 'crime'. And it is true, today there is need for one more Satyagraha to get out of the mire we are in.


Bittu Sahgal replies:

My dear Laxman

Thanks for your wonderfully supportive message. I cannot tell you how many letters I have received in response and this makes me feel good that Gandhiji is alive and well in most ordinary people, even if he has died in the hearts of most politicians who wear khadi uniforms as they abuse his memory.



"To deprive a man of his natural liberty and to deny to him the ordinary amenities of life is worse than starving the body; it is starvation of the soul... the dweller in the body."

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

How different things would have been had Gandhiji been alive today. If we had him at the forefront of the human rights and environmental movement he would have travelled from village to Indian village to consult with the people. Instead of dispensing knowledge to them, he would have learned from them their technologies for survival and sustainable development. He would then have prevailed upon us in urban India to set an example of simple, ecologically sound, living for the benefit of others. After nearly two decades of meandering through the perplexing paths of environmental rethink, I have come to the conclusion that Gandhiji had provided solutions to our current environmental problems even before they had cropped up. He was not merely a man before his time, but also an environmental prophet whose precious life was squandered on a people who, even decades after his death, have failed to recognise his true worth.

The fact is that many of these technologies though environmentally sound, are not efficient. The very history of technological innovation has been to come up with better and better methods to solve a problem. Yes, they have to be made environmentally sound, and sustainable.

That is where the solution is in my opinion, and not in necessarily going back to age old and inefficient technologies.

Gandhi may have provided a solution, but sure modern environmentally-sound technology can possibly give better solutions also.



Dear Mr. Bittu,

I am proud that at least one person in my great land has got dignity and self-respect and an understanding of our nation and our people. India will surely be at par with other countries. But what stops it is our own attitude. Until we believe that we are all one. Until we stop thinking that my culture is different from yours. Until we stop thinking in terms of mine, mine, mine.

People must think, it's my nation, my people, live and let live. Surely India, my great motherland will be the most elegant, beautiful, prosperous country in the world.

I am just 20 years old. But, I have seen lots of people, who don't even care for their fellow Indians. I some times feel "Why did Gandhi get us our freedom ?". Poor Gandhi !. He could only free us from British rule. But who is going to change the people who are in politics: they are the people who can change India.

"Jai Hind!",
Udaya Kumar D.

My Dear Udaya Kumar:

Thanks so much for your lovely letter. You are completely right. Unless we start living our lives as though we were a family, the country has no future. Unfortunately, a very powerful minority has begun to usurp the resources of millions and this is precisely what Gandhiji died fighting against. You may be just 20 years old but I think you display more wisdom than many of the white-haired politicians who talk about Gandhi while practicing exactly the opposite values. Who is going to change the people who are in politics you ask? The answer to that is obvious... YOU! ME! All of us together. Don't despair.

Everything takes time and the tide is indeed working in our favour right now because the exploiters have made life so uncomfortable for everyone else that even the smallest resistance, such as the article I wrote, seems to have a sea of support.

Warm regards and good luck to you in your own personal battle to make India a better place.



Hello Sir. Thank you for the interesting thought provoking article. Though not as experienced as you, I join you by way of empathy in feeling the plight of the majority of our fellowmen.

However, I keep reading about problems again and again, but rarely get to read about proposals to eradicate or mellow them. Thank you very much for the article.


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