Witnesses arrested, accused walks free!

Feature story - April 14, 2006
NEW DELHI, India — Bearing witness to the mass murder of Olive Ridley turtles can cost you dearly in the strange world we inhabit. 12 Greenpeace activists were arrested in New Delhi this morning, for having brought evidence of turtle mortality from Orissa to Delhi. In stark contrast, the person responsible for their deaths, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, was respectfully escorted to his vehicle by Delhi police, after he had made the appropriate sound bytes to news cameras.

In an early morning wake-up call to the Orissa Chief Minister, Greenpeace activists create a graveyard of Olive Ridley carcasses in New Delhi.

Three turtle carcasses lay on white sheets, surrounded by the sun-bleached bones and skulls of several others. Two large banners, in English and in Hindi, make it quite clear to passers-by that the Chief Accused for the death of the Olive Ridleys in Orissa is none other than the Chief Minister of the State.

How much evidence do you need?

We've camped at Orissa for four months at the Turtle Witness Camp, bearing witness to thousands of dead turtles washed ashore this season. We've seen, up close and personal, the maggot-infested carcasses of turtles, pregnant female turtles lying dead with their precious hoard of eggs laid open to predators and adult male turtles lying forlornly on shores that they usually never return to once they've left as hatchlings.

We've gone to the Chief Wildlife Warden, and recreated a graveyard at his doorstep, asking him what he has done to prevent these deaths. Surprisingly, he responded by saying that his department had neither the expertise nor the infrastructure required to adequately protect the turtles.

We've even put together the "I Witness Report" , personal testimonies by the many people who have visited our Turtle Witness Camp, interlaced with the shocking results of the monitoring and documentation we've carried out over the last few months.

Raising a stink.

Remember the scene from The Point Of No Return where Maggie stands over a human body dissolving in an acid bath and, unflinching, mutters "I never did mind about the little things."

That scene was re-enacted this morning.

If facts and figures don't rattle a Chief Minister, Greenpeace figured, perhaps the sight and smell of Olive Ridley turtles in various stages of decomposition would. For once, we were proven wrong. Naveen Patnaik was able to smile suavely at cameras, neatly sidestep both the carcasses and the uncomfortable questions posed by our activists, and mouth platitudes like, "The turtles are the pride of Orissa and over the past few years, we have sensitised the local community towards the need to protect them."

Unmentionable is the fact that it takes something more than a sensitised community to defend the turtles. Something like spending the Rs.1 Crore (Rupees ten million) that Naveen Patnaik's government received towards actually protecting the turtles .

"It's time the Chief Minister woke up to the urgency of the situation. He can no longer evade his responsibility for the annual turtle genocide in Orissa," said Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace India. "The evidence is before us - the state's failure to protect this endangered species could well result in the total collapse of the turtle population. He needs to take action, and do so now!"

Three Greenpeace activists booked under Wildlife Protection Act.

Of the 12 Greenpeace activists arrested at this morning's action outside the residence of Orissa Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, three have been booked under the Wildlife Protection Act, and will be held overnight at the Tughlaq Road Police Station. Activists have been accused of violating the Wildlife Protection Act by transporting carcasses of Olive Ridley turtles from Orissa to Delhi, while, as they pointed out, those responsible for the deaths of these turtles are allowed to go scot free.

Greenpeace reacts strongly to the decision to book environmental activists under an act meant to protect the very interests that motivated the activists to confront the Chief Minister today.

"Given that the Chief Minister has abdicated his responsibility to protect the endangered Olive Ridley Turtles, we consider him to be in violation of the Wildlife Protection Act," said Ashish Fernandes. "It is shocking that officials of the law choose to prosecute those who take action to uphold the law, instead of those who flagrantly violate it, or those abusing their positions of responsibility."

Over 100,000 Olive Ridley turtles have died in the last one decade in Orissa, and as Greenpeace has pointed out, this is particularly ironical at a time when the United Nations marks 2006 as the International Year of the Turtle.

 If you would like to report on the action, click here to read the press release.

For high-resolution images and broadcast quality footage from the action, please contact: 

Namrata Chowdhary, Media Officer, Greenpeace India: +91 98108 50092 or

Sanjiv Gopal, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace India: +91 98455 35416  

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