All my friends in Greenpeace should visit Paryavaran Bhavan in Delhi (the abode of the Ministry of Environment and Forests) at least once – I had an appointment with an official there this morning. Its easy to find: in the few spots where the plaster isn’t peeling off, you can tell it’s painted a pale shade of green (environment, remember?) and the presence of two barely alive potted-plants at the entrance leaves no room for any further doubt. By the time I found my way through the jungle of dingy, file-strewn corridors (the “Information and Facilitation Counter” downstairs serves as a make-shift tea-stall), I was left incredulously wondering how people can, with a straight face, ask for more and more state control over natural resources as a solution to environmental degradation – more forest officers, more wildlife wardens, more paryavaran paper-pushers….more guns, more guards.

One visit to the Ministry’s office reveals starkly what happens when you take forests and wildlife away from local communities and entrust them to the bureaucracy: incentive incompatibility. Neither the benefits of a job well-done nor the costs of a project botched up accrue directly to the official at Paryavaran Bhavan.

As I was wading my way through the stacks of files in the wildlife protection section, my eye caught a memo lying on the top of the stack: Subject: Export of one baby elephant. “with regard to the export of one baby elephant, age six months, from Periyar Reserve to Yeravan Public Zoo, Armenia, it is recommended that a 3-member committee be set up to look into the official formalities, legal requirements…..” So as we speak, the fate of this junior jumbo in the jungles of Kerala lies in the hands (and files) of the Additional Deputy Joint Under Secretary of Wildlife Protection, thousands of miles away, in Wing 3, Block B2, Fifth floor, Room 532, cubicle 7, Paryavaran Bhavan…