May 18, 2005
It was in early March that the Prime Minister expressed his concern about the state of the tiger and sent directions to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the Rajasthan government – he then chaired a meeting of the National Board of Wildlife and created a Tiger Task Force.
But what has actually happened in practice to help tigers in their forests since then?
It is the evening before the Indian Monsoon and therefore the most vulnerable time for tigers as poachers have always used this moment to strike. This is when protection is difficult in forests as the rain washes away the roads. Accessibility is tough. Never forget Sariska’s tigers were wiped out at this time last year.
What do we need to do?
• Nearly 15 vulnerable areas have been identified. We need to immediately deploy home guards and armed police to the periphery of these areas. Chief Ministers must be requested by the Prime Minister to do this on a war footing. This is a vital short term measure that nothing can replace. Khaki clad guards frighten poachers and must be used.
• The CBI must get a national mandate to investigate poaching and illegal trade.Their report on Sariska is excellent and other areas require urgent investigation especially since senior investigators of the CBI feel Sariska is symptomatic of Project Tiger reserves across the country.
• The Prime Minister must hold a meeting of Chief Ministers and insist on fresh recruitment and the filling of vacancies in the forest staff – if this process is not done immediately the ‘50 year old’ forest guard will not be able to match the armed intrusion of poachers and we will have many more Sariskas in the very near future. Let’s not forget that insurgents have enveloped tiger reserves of Manas, Indrawati, Nagarjunasagar, Palamau and they have severe problems. It is even difficult today to find the mark of a tiger in Namdapha or Dampha in the northeast and recent reports from Buxa suggest that the tigers have migrated to Bhutan!
• To help with the protection of all these prize areas a new protection force must be developed, made up of local people who need to be well-trained and instructed by top trainers of our commando outfits. This local or forest dwellers’ protection force needs to be trained in dealing with armed intrusions by both poachers of wood and animals. Such a force will effectively engage local people in the direct protection of their forest and if immediately constituted across India could be trained ready to act in a period of 6 months.
• The National Wildlife Crime Prevention and Control Bureau is still gathering dust on the shelves of some bureaucrat’s office – this Bureau was cleared for action on the 17th March at the National Board of Wildlife meeting chaired by the Prime Minister – It must start functioning before the monsoon if we are to minimize the activities of illegal wildlife traders.
• It is equally vital that the Tiger Task Force make some urgent interim recommendations before the monsoon breaks so that some of the wild tigers across the forests of India get the urgent relief they desperately need. Long term measures of how joint models of managing our protected areas will evolve over time, but one pressing need is the immediate strengthening of protection for the monsoon of 2005 and with the little time left we must deploy what we can rapidly. If we do not do this few will forgive the leadership of this country for inaction especially if post monsoon other Sariska like examples surface – and let me be clear that there is a strong possibility of this.
• While short term measures are being dealt with let the Prime Minister never forget the vital long term measures of overhauling the basic structure of Project Tiger, creating a dedicated Ministry of even at the very least a department of forest and wildlife for rapid and efficient governance of this much neglected sector, the creation of a Protected Area/ National Park Service which has a new training schedule and he ability to undertake inter-state transfers, reforming all the forest institutions that are in a slumber or non-performing. The Prime Minister must set out the priorities for saving tigers in time bound programmes for implementation.
We have had a huge debate on the Tribal Bill. I think it is quite clear in general that everyone wants greater debate. Dissent by many has been severe. We must work on a new draft that protects the rights that are provided to tribals and strengthens the rights that protect both the forest and all its wild inhabitants. In fact the Bill should be called ‘The Forest, Forest Dweller and Wildlife Bill’ (Recognition of all Rights of all the above) since it is quite clear that none of the above three can live in isolation of the other and the Tribal Bill in its present form will only lead to greater stress and strife between human being and forest.
But let’s get back to saving wild tigers.If the Chief Minister of Rajasthan could deploy more than 300 men to the two tiger reserves of Rajasthan in 24 hours what are the other Chief Ministers waiting for? Surely they don’t want any more Sariskas in their State? Surely its better to take immediate preventive action, pre-monsoon? The Prime Minister must address an immediate letter to all Chief Ministers on this issue – we have no time to lose. It would be horrific to witness another Sariska and if it happened it would be a dereliction of duty by all concerned.
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