February 26, 2005
The world of the tiger in India is enveloped in a crisis. For me it is a crisis of governance. Inept decision making, lack of vision, lack of field craft, lack of commitment to field protection have all become a part of the recipe that stirs the cauldron of this crisis. Our senior wildlife scientists are confronted today with criminal cases of trespass, their jeeps seized, offensive reports written against them, and this done by forest officers. The only two tiger scientists Dr Ullas Karanth and Dr Raghu Chundawat who have provided new and startling insights into tiger behaviours have been harassed either through court cases or just plain simple non-cooperation by authorities. The few left to defend the system are sent scurrying to courts on some false charge, or are just not even listened to.
While all this happens, tigers die. Twenty-six over the last monsoon and recently over Christmas, four freshly killed tigers in Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Tigers die in every corner of India, so do leopards. The Wildlife Protection Society of India records the death of 719 tigers and 2474 leopards between 1994 and 2004.
What are we going to do?
What happens to all the early warning systems across the country like the State Wildlife Advisory Board, the Steering Committee of Project Tiger and the National Board of Wildlife? They are supposed to provide expert advice to Park directors, monitor Parks and intervene when necessary. They are ‘dozing’, and the result is devastating. Places like Sariska will vanish and we will now have many more Sariskas to add to the list.
The best national parks for tigers are in their most miserable state in India—even high-profile Ranthambhore has had to face a spate of illegal woodcutting in the last two months. There could even be missing tigers. The main reason for this is that the minister transferred 30 forest guards from the core area of the national park to another region in the state. He also usurped the powers of senior Park officials in terms of transfer, thereby breaking a command structure. You want a transfer, go to the minister! Governance is now at its lowest ebb.
Luckily the Supreme Court of India still acts rapidly. And the few cases that are detected and brought to its notice receive swift relief and judgments. God knows what the state of affairs would have been without the amazing directives from the apex court of India. Since 1995, 250-300 interim orders, directives and final orders have been given. They reveal the sad state of governance in the country and reflect the vast crisis that has enveloped the land of the tiger and because of which the Honourable Court has had to come in to find innovative solutions. The instruments of the Supreme Court like the Central Empowered Committee are even giving directives to state governments to remove illegal grazers from national parks. In the past this was done by directors of Parks. Field managers seem to have lost the ability or are frightened to take good common sense-based decisions. And because of this a spate of public interest litigations has entered the court process.
It is clear from all this that the maker and enforcer of the law has also turned into breaker of the law. In Panna National Park in Madhya Pradesh, Dr R S Chundawat has scientifically studied the life, and in many cases the death, of 35 different tigers and his new report is a startling insight into the tragic state of affairs. Dr Chundawat is quite clear that the primary reason for the loss of tigers is the lack of focus on protection and the general mismanagement of the area. His detailed 100-page report entitled Missing or Dead, after nearly a decade of serious scientific research, makes for some shocking reading about the level of governance that we have reached. The fate of other areas can be imagined. Out of 27 tiger reserves under Project Tiger many are out of control due to the intrusion of armed insurgents or severe law and order problems. At least seven tiger reserves, namely Sariska, Indrawati, Srisailam, Dampha, Palamau Namdapha and Panna, may have hardly any or very few tigers left because of local extinctions due to the poaching and poisoning of tigers. We require a complete overhaul of Project Tiger.
First we need to create a new Ministry of Forests and Wildlife. Split up the present non-functioning ministry into two. Without this first step little will be achieved. We need to reform the Indian Forest Service. Create a sub-cadre and a National Park Service, where a director of Ranthambhore can be posted as a director of Kaziranga—and inter-state transfers can take place. Change the horrors of 31 state governments controlling the actions of forest officers so no one is answerable. Today the directors can create lakes by hacking grasslands which were vital for the herbivore. They can make canals from one lake to another, believing it will increase the water levels—instead, it destroys them. They also make bathrooms and cafeterias across the meadows of their Parks and even a cafeteria in the middle of a national park; some allow water sports in the most important water body of the Park. The list of ‘‘activities’’ is endless. I believe it is dangerous to interfere with or manipulate natural habitats. The priorities of some directors are twisted, resulting in the mismanagement of some of the most important areas for tiger. Money calls the shots and some have conveniently forgotten the simple art of protection and are now into the big-time ‘budget heads’ of construction and development.
We must create tiger intelligent teams to act, advice and be empowered for monitoring and independent assessments. The priority focus of the Forest Department should be protection. The sanctity of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, which were created by Indira Gandhi in her valiant effort to save forest India, has been devastated. It is now her own party, the Congress, which is about to devastate her legacy and ensure the disappearance of forest India. They have even made a draft resolution entitled ‘The Scheduled Tribes and Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2005’, which if ever pushed through Parliament will ensure the end of every bit of wilderness in India.
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