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Ramesh reaches out to States to save tiger

July 27, 2009
Prerna Singh Bindra | Sariska Tiger Reserve

The all-India conference of tiger reserve directors, held here on July 25-26, marked a new chapter in big cat conservation. The conclave made a sincere effort to end the chasm between the Centre and States on the critical issue of tiger conservation, which largely stems from non-compliance by States of important initiatives. The meeting’s objective was to understand the problems faced by tiger reserve directors and address their concerns.

Reiterating that his Government was committed to protecting tigers, Union Minister of State for Environment & Forests Jairam Ramesh said that the Centre and States must work together in this endeavour. He also urged the States to sign a tripartite agreement to ensure accountability and efficient utilisation of funds.

He announced that the new All India Estimates of Tigers will commence in September 2009 and the deadline for submitting its findings was fixed for October next year, when India hosts the World Tiger Summit at Ranthambore. The estimation exercise will primarily be the responsibility of the Wildlife Institute of India, with help from certain NGOs. By March 2010, the WII will also complete a comprehensive assessment of the tiger reserves.

Ramesh also said there was a move to amend the wildlife protection Act for including stringent penalties that would serve as a major deterrent to poachers. Stressing the importance of good intelligence systems and application of science in solving wildlife crime, the Minister said that the crackdown on poaching in the Gir lion case was an example to be learnt from and followed.

He also threw light on the Rs 11,000-crore Compulsory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), through which Rs 1,000 crore will be released every year to the States on pro-rata basis. He underlined that the fund was not for afforestation but for wildlife protection, staff empowerment, restoration and regeneration of degraded forests and for meeting financial needs of protected areas, besides the tiger reserves.

Special focus was given to problems of the 16 poor-category reserves, and increased assistance promised in terms of funds and technical support from the Centre. Given the poor condition of the frontline staff across the reserves, the Minister announced that their field allowance would be doubled.

Speaking on the controversial issue of the INO observatory coming up on the edge of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, Ramesh said he had refused clearance considering the disturbance it would entail on this critical tiger and elephant corridor. However, he stressed that the project was important, and his Ministry would extend all support to help locate alternatives.

He announced that a committee had been constituted to assess the continuing Maoist problem in Simlipal Tiger Reserve in Orissa. A similar assessment was essential in other Naxal-affected reserves like Palamau and Indravati, he pointed out.

Critical concerns like man-tiger conflict, forest fires, tiger and elephant mortality by trains and roads, use of microlight aircraft for surveillance and setting up of a Special Tiger Protection Force also came up for discussion.

‘Radio collaring to continue’

The Panna controversy came to the fore during the conference of tiger reserve directors, with the State saying that it was not to be blamed alone. Chief Wildlife Warden Dr HS Pabla said the Centre had rated the park as “good and well-managed” in 2005-2006, and not warned the State of the unfolding debacle. Saying that Panna was a well-protected park, he faulted the SIT report that said, “Poaching was a major cause for local tiger extinction in Panna, and it cannot be compared with Sariska because warning bells were sounded (there) regularly for the last eight years.”

Alerts on Panna's increasingly alarming situation have repeatedly been conveyed to the State by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, besides scientists. The NTCA had also advised the State to hand over the inquiry of tiger poaching cases involving Panna to the CBI.

Significantly, the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court visited the reserve and reported in February 2005, “Panna is showing signs of (becoming a) Sariska. It is necessary to set it right before it is too late. Otherwise, the tiger will never recover here.”

However, the Minister said there did not appear to be an “authentic documentation” of the experience of Panna’s tiger extinction. Given that the controversy refused to die down, he announced that an impartial committee would be set up with the purpose of giving a definitive account of the causes behind the Panna fiasco. The possibility of employing the CBI was also considered.

The Minister also made a clarification regarding reports in the media that “radio collaring was killing Panna tigers”. He explained that this was “the opinion of an individual” that had been put up for consideration. He stressed that radio collaring was a necessary conservation tool practised the world over and India was going to continue using it.

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