Home » Special Interview with Sunil Limaye, Ex PCCF Wildlife, Maharashtra

Special Interview with Sunil Limaye, Ex PCCF Wildlife, Maharashtra

by In-house Editor

Q. Can you share a brief overview of your early career and how you entered the field of forestry and wildlife management?

Sunil Limaye: ”During my college days, I was not sure what exactly I was to do. Normally, the people who are taking science in 11th or 12th grade always think that they want to become doctors or engineers. But if they can’t, they don’t have any plan B. The same thing happened to me when I did my graduation in geology. Thereafter, I started giving the exam. But before that, during my college days, I used to go a lot in the jungle because I am from Kolhapur. Radhanagiri and Dajipur are two famous places in Kolhapur. Most of the people who go to that area go hiking and trekking. And that’s where I started loving the forest. So, after my graduation, I decided I should join the army because that was my first preference. But when I didn’t get into the army, I took the examination of a range forest officer. And in my first go, I fought to the range for the exam. I joined at Chandrapur. While doing the training, I got selected for the next higher post, which is the assistant forest contractor. Then, I had my one-second training in Coimbatore. After doing the training, I was doing my probationary period in the Bundiya area. Meanwhile, in 1987, I appeared for the Indian Forest Service examination. Once again, I got selected. And I joined the forest service in 1988. Thus, for 6-7 years, I was undergoing training and various postings. And finally, I got into IFS. So, I will say, as I used to love the forest, I used to love wildlife, and I used to move in the forest area. That helped me get into the forest service. And it was my pleasure. Then, in 1988, I did my training at Dehradun. I came to Maharashtra in 1990. And until 1992, I was really a happy person. All the time, I served the forest department. I had one stint as the Additional Tribal Commissioner of Ambalvati, where I worked for the Tribal Development Department. I had my BSF postings at Alibaug, Satara, and Budhapur. But more than half of my period of service was in wildlife. I think I would be the first person in Maharashtra who has worked as DCF Wildlife, that is, Deputy Conservator, then Conservator, then Chief Conservator, then Additional PCCF, and finally PCCF Wildlife. So, my destiny was a forest. And I was very happy in the forest department. And whatever I get in my life, I always owe it to the forest department and the forest. So, this is my service. So, I started preparing for the competitive exam in 1984. Until 1990, I was giving the examination training. And from 1990 onwards, my career started as a forest officer”.

Q. What inspired you to pursue a career in forestry, and how did you find your initial experiences in the Indian Forest Service?

SL: ”As I told you my background, I was a geology student. So, getting into GSDA or GSI was our prime target. However, another goal was to join the army. From my side, that is, from my family, there was no one in the army. Some people were there. There used to be one, my uncle, who was in the army. But in the recent past, there was no one in the army. So, my first choice was to get into the army. But I told you it was my love and passion. My initial years during my college days were the first year of my graduation, the second year, and the third year. We moved a lot in the jungle. I had two very nice teachers with me in college. One was Mr. Bagi, because of whom I got into Gokhale College. And I was doing my graduation. Another one was Mr. Jagdale. He taught us how to go to the forest area, how to read the forest, and how to enjoy the wildlife. And because of that, I got into the forest. During my initial years, I was really happy as a D.C.A. I worked a lot at many places. Alibaug was quite challenging because a lot of problems were there regarding the encroachment on forest land. During my tenure as an additional tribal commissioner, I really enjoyed it. I was working for the welfare of the tribal people. I did a lot of things so that they would get a proper education. I shifted many tribal students to a very nice English school, which is Sanjeevan School. Many people helped me. One thing I can tell you is that if you are really in love with the forest, I think there is no better service than the Forest Department Service. So during all my tenure, it was wildlife, wildlife, wildlife, and people’s welfare. So I really enjoyed all my postings as D.C.A., C.A., and C.C.A. And once I became Additional Commissioner, that was mainly the policy. But every Saturday and Sunday, I kept my routine to go into the forest area and stay with the forest personnel, who were the frontline staff”.

Q. Could you share a memorable experience or success story from your tenure as Director of Sanjay Gandhi National Park that stands out in your mind?

SL: ”Sanjay Gandhi National Park’s director post is a challenging one. I joined there in May. Two big problems were there. The first was to remove the encroachment from the border area of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. That was my own problem. That was the department’s problem. But another problem was that many people used to think that there were a lot of leopards in Sanjay Gandhi National Park. They don’t have a big prey base. That’s why they can’t survive in the park. And they come out of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, and they attack the people. And that was a myth. As a forest worker, I knew that that was a myth. But it was very important to repel that myth and dispel that myth. So, one of my friends, Vidyarth Rishi, suggested me, let us do a project. So, we started one project called Mumbai Curse for Sanjay Gandhi National Park. And we went under, living with the leopards. So, first, we studied whether a leopard really has enough prey over there. We got the answer: yes, enough prey is there. Then we started finding out why the leopard was going out. Then we found out that an easy prey base was there. The dogs are there, the pigs are there, and the rodents are there. And why are they there? Because a lot of debris is there. Then we contacted all the stakeholders: local people, people staying in surrounding societies, municipal corporations, police, revenue officials, naturalists, and biologists. And we made it a citizen’s project. We decided that anybody who wanted to know about this project should come to the park and do all this work. Another thing is that we made our people, the forest officials, responsible people. When people used to complain regarding this leopard problem, we used to react. But we totally changed that. We started responding to the people. We started telling them that the main problem lies with us. We are creating problems for the leopard. We have already encroached on the leopard’s land. So, now either give the leopard his land back to him or you stay away from the forest area. But that was not easy for the people either. Then we decided we should behave in such a way that whatever leopard needs, we won’t provide. So leopards will not come into our territory. And it is a huge success. Many attacks, they stop. People now understand that leopards are not attacking them. Normally, 90% are accidents. And people are avoiding the things to do that are liked by the leopard. And that project, which is called Mumbai Coverage GMP, or Living with the Leopard, going pretty strong for the last 12 years. And I think that was the biggest achievement for any person who has worked in Sanjay Gandhi National Park”.

Q. Being recognized with the naming of a new species of gecko and spider is quite an honor. How does such recognition impact your perspective on the work you’ve done?

SL: “Yes, that was also a real story. It’s a funny story actually. I am not responsible for discovering any of these species. One is a day gecko that is called Nemaspis Limaye. And another is a jumping spider of HGMP that is called Zalzego Sunil Limaye. Both the names have been given by the researcher to those species just to honor me. Because when I was a college student, whenever I used to move in the forest area of Kolhapur and nearby areas, we never got the accommodation to stay. We never got any help from the forest officials. So when I became a forest officer, I decided I should always help the local people. I should always help the researcher. So many times researchers used to come and stay in my house till they complete their project. So one person, Rajesh Shanab, was there with me. Then another was Amit Syed, he also was there with me. And these two persons, they discovered two new species and these names were given. So I always tell them when you get some important position, when you are in a position to help the people, always help the people and that will always repay you.So whenever people think that Leemai is a great scientist and he had discovered it, I always tell them this example. It is not me, but it is the people whom I have helped a little bit. They are trying to repay whatever I have helped them in this way. So this was the best experience for me and another best thing that I could get from them is I also got an idea, what is the research, how research is being done, what is the help that they require and how those people can help the forest department”

Q. Were there instances where you faced resistance or difficulties in implementing conservation measures, and how did you overcome them?

SL: “Yes, a lot of problems were there during my first posting at Kolhapur. I was trying to see that there should not be any unauthorized mining in forest areas. So a very big company was against me. They tried to influence our minister, they harassed me like anything. But I did not budge and I could fight with them with the help of the local people and of course with the higher judiciary. I always see that the higher judiciary always helps the forest department when the question of wildlife conservation comes. So that was my big experience. So I understood when I have to fight with big people, I have to be very street smart, I have to be good with the local people. Even during the Sanjay Gandhi National Park tenure, when my first job was to remove the encroachment, I took local people with me. I started telling them, why should encroachment be removed? And that helped me a lot because removing the encroachment from the border of Sanjay Gandhi is a very difficult job. Honorable Mumbai High Court has given an order in 1997 that within the next 18 months, the encroachment should be removed. For the first 25 years, we are fighting tooth and nail with all these people. It is pretty difficult to remove the encroachment. So removing the encroachment from Sanjay Gandhi National Park, that was a big task. And I could do it because of my staff’s cooperation, my good relation with other people and of course with the help of the higher judiciary. And that has left an indelible mark in my mind. Because if you want to do some good work, many people will be against you. But if you are clear in your thoughts, if you are clear what you want to do, if you are clear that you have to do it for the forest and future generations, I think most of the people will help you”.

Q. Since your last posting as Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), what have been your engagements or contributions to wildlife conservation, and do you have ongoing projects or initiatives?

SL: “The best part I think when I was PCC for life was that we decided we came with a 10 years plan for our state, Maharashtra state. My predecessor, Mr. Kakodkar, who is a very good wildlife expert, who is my friend, decided we should have a 10 years perspective plan for the Maharashtra state that what we are to do in the next 10 years for wildlife management. And that has come up very nicely. It is in the implementation stage. Also, we had decided to have at least one transit treatment centre in every district of Maharashtra. We started that way and the biggest problem was the man-animal conflict. Mainly the conflict with the tigers in Chandrapur, Nagpur area. And all over Maharashtra, it is the conflict with labor. Another new conflict has started in Gadichuruli and part of Kolhapur Sindhu, that is the elephant problem with the elephants. So we started doing a lot of work, awareness programs, people support and we have come up with a very nice standard operating procedure on how to deal with man-animal conflict. Another great thing we started is the translocation of a good population of tigers from one place to another. We started with Nagjira and hopefully within the next few months or a year, we will translocate some tigers from Nagpur, Chandrapur area to Sainadi tiger research that is in western Maharashtra. Great. For young individuals who are aspiring to contribute to wildlife conservation”.

Q. For young individuals aspiring to contribute to wildlife conservation, what advice would you offer based on your extensive experience?

SL: “The best advice I can give to the people, if you are really interested in wildlife or the forest, if you have got a passion for the forest, please come join the forest service. You can do the research also, that is the best part. But we need good administrators also because when you have research with you and the good people there in the administration, we are required to save our forest. It is only 21% forest that is there in India, same in Maharashtra. At least we have to conserve that forest. We are increasing the forest and it is a pretty difficult job. It is next to impossible. But courts are there with us, higher judiciary is always with us. So when we have to conserve our forest, that means we have to preserve the forest. At the same time, we have to try to increase the forest. If not possible, at least we can increase the tree cover. And for that purpose, we require intelligent officers and at the same time passionate officers. Because if you have got intelligence but if you don’t have the passion, then you cannot be a good forest officer. You need to have the passion. So all the people interested in research, interested in studies, if you have got the passion, join the forest service. Forest service is one of the noble services that one can say, just like doctors, teachers. But I will request all the passionate nature lovers to come and join the forest service”.

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