FIVE MONTHS after T24 was shifted from the Ranthambore tiger reserve to Udaipur Biological Park, the Rajasthan Chief Wildlife Warden admitted to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) that they were “not aware” of the standard operating procedure (SOP) regarding the shifting and the translocation was carried out under “public pressure”.
Information accessed by The Indian Express under the Right to Information Act shows the forest department also repeatedly snubbed the NTCA, which is the apex body in charge of conserving the national animal, by ignoring its letters and skipping high-level meetings on the translocation unilaterally.
The Indian Express had sought the chain of communication between the NTCA and Rajasthan government over the moving of T24, through an RTI plea filed to the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
T24, a.k.a Ustad, was shifted from the Ranthambore reserve to the Sajjangarh Biological Park after he allegedly killed a forest guard in May this year. Wildlife activists had accused the state government of acting hastily under pressure from Ranthambore’s tourism lobby.
The RTI reply shows that at the October 9 meeting between NTCA and MoEF officials, in response to the tiger authority’s repeated queries regarding shifting of T24 “without informing the authorites concerned”, Rajasthan Chief Wildlife Warden R K Tyagi said he had not kept officials in the loop as he had joined office just two-three days earlier.
As per the minutes of the meeting, Tyagi also claimed he had followed Section 11 of the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), and said, “Because of public pressure and fear among the people going for parikrama (to the famous Ganesha temple in the reserve forest), he had issued the said order… as the said tiger had a record of human killing earlier also.”
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Say the minutes, “Tyagi admitted he was not aware of the NTCA’s SOP… and therefore relied upon the December 8, 2007, advisory of the NTCA… He took the decision (based on inputs).”
Records of the meeting also show that a fortnight before the killing of the forest guard that led to T24’s transfer, Additional Director General (Project Tiger) and Member Secretary B S Bonal had expressed his concern over “the way in which tourism was (being) managed in the (Ranthambore tiger reserve) area”.
The NTCA wrote frequently to the Rajasthan government on T24’s health and action taken by it, with the RTI reply showing letters were written on October 6, 16, November 12, 26, as well as December 4, 5 and 8. All went unanswered.
The meeting to review the Rajasthan government’s compliance of NTCA directions regarding T24 was originally to be held on September 22. On the state government’s request, in view of the then ongoing session of the Assembly, it was rescheduled for September 24.
“However, on the said date, none of the officers of the state government turned up… neither did they consider it necessary to intimate anything about their non-participation,” the NTCA said in its letter to the state government dated September 30. “This has been viewed very seriously.”
The meeting was rescheduled for October 9, where the NTCA raised the issue of the state government shifting T24 without formally informing the authority, “without seeking necessary permissions” under the WPA, and without following the SOP.
Following the October 9 meeting, the NTCA directed the state government to “go (in) for a scientific solution with objectivity” and constitute a new independent committee, which “must submit its report by 31st October 2015”.
The NTCA also directed that the new committee could not include anyone associated with the shifting of T24, or any member who was part of “the committee constituted to decide the fate of T24 in the past, except the field director as convener”.
However, after failing to get any response from the Rajasthan forest department on either the constitution of the new independent committee or on its report which was to be submitted by October 31, the NTCA sought Chief Secretary C S Rajan’s intervention.
The Rajasthan Forest Department finally responded on December 12, informing the NTCA about the constitution of an independent committee and said it would submit its report on shifting of T24 back to the wild in one month.