In a country where desecration of forests often wears the garb of ‘development’, the murder of Avni may have served to unite global opinion against the wanton slaughter of the big cat’s natural habitat, especially in India.

It does not matter which discredited industrialist’s interest Avni’s death was meant to serve but by allowing a humungous14,000 square kilometers of green cover to be shorn off over the last 30 years, India has clearly demonstrated the status of its commitment to the natural environment.

At the receiving end of this murderous assault have been animals and Adivasis, sometimes done to death in stealthy operations to facilitate forest land grab for industry. The point is that neither the tribal nor the tiger is encroaching on land for “development”; 21st-century style development is guilty of encroaching on the little that remains pristine and must necessarily be preserved so that nature can manage to ameliorate the conditions wrought by its devastation elsewhere.

The Prime Minister’s latest fad, the bullet train alone will account for the alienation of some 77.45 hectares of forests, in line with the 23,716 industrial projects driving such onslaught over three decades. Illicit operations greatly enhance the denudation data as operators, not content with decimating forests, have begun razing hills to the ground.

The Rajasthan government is now before the Supreme Court explaining how 31 hills in the Aravalli range have disappeared. The knowledgeable know that illegal mining has caused the havoc while environmentalists suggest that the mediating influence of the Aravalli cover was protecting the Delhi environment from assuming death chamberlike proportions.

The Aravallis are not the only victim; so are densely forested tracts in northern, central and southern Western Ghats even as government data shows a rise in forest cover. Without accusing the government of chicanery, it may be emphasized that the term ‘forest cover’ is easily misrepresented; plantations seemingly green from the satellites get categorised as forests.

Experts protest that remote-sensing satellite images with a 23.5 metre per pixel resolution cannot be trusted for accuracy and the World Bank inspired quick-fix forests exacerbate the problem by demolishing millennium old indigenous species and substituting them with alien varieties. As the National Capital Region chokes, the citizenry would do well to remember that nature provides an “ecosystem service”, thus recognized by civilized countries.

Way back in 2013, the economic value of Indian forests were estimated at Rs 6.96 lakh crore annually, around 6.86 per cent of the GDP, taking into account only the bare minimum approximate values of goods and services generated by forests, while even the ministry of environment and forests concedes that forests absorb some 1.25 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gases. If indeed the tigress was protecting this green wealth, the consolidated conscience of India should condemn the slaying of Avni in a season where India celebrates the victory of good over evil.