Of the 37 tiger reserves in the country,there is no information available on the number of tigers or if there are any at all in as many as seven. The Indian Express discovered this at an All India Meet for Tiger Reserve Directors in Sariska over the weekend,where each of them made their presentations.
Given the figures,National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) Member Secretary Rajesh Gopal admitted that at least one of the reserves,Indravati in Chhattisgarh,should be denotified. With Indravati in the grip of Naxalism,he said,tiger protection efforts in the past 20 years have failed.
Six other reserves are facing similar problems while Simlipal (Orissa) and Palamau (Jharkhand) are shackled by violent Naxalite groups,Manas (Assam),Namdapha (Arunachal Pradesh),Dampa (Mizoram) and Buxa (West Bengal) suffer from problems of inaccessibility and poor tiger density.
A new classification,that Wildlife Institute of India (WII) Dean V B Mathur said was based on field observations and the 2007 All India Tiger Estimation,showed that tiger density and numbers are at an all-time low. As per the new classification,of the 37 tiger reserves,12 are good,nine have moderate tiger density,while as many as 16 have poor tiger density.
One of the reserves whose field staff admitted to not knowing the tiger numbers was Simlipal,which was given Rs 602 lakh for tiger conservation last year. Interestingly,the reserve has sought Rs 672 lakh from Project Tiger more money than even the annual allocation to the park to rebuild infrastructure ravaged by Naxalites. The proposal is now pending with the Planning Commission.
In other parts of the country,money given for tiger conservation is lying unutilised. Last year,under Project Tiger,the Northeastern states were given Rs 60 crore. Namdapha,which may not have any tigers left at all according to WII sources,was able to spend Rs 1.34 crore,with Rs 82 lakh lying unspent. The amount has been revalidated this year.
The situation in the other reserves isnt much better,including Manas (where two tigers were reportedly sighted recently) and Dampa (which may have only two tigers left). It is also unknown how many tigers are there in Palamau. It is very difficult to move in the field because of Naxalism, admitted field director R N Prasad.
While Buxa field director R P Saini said the park had 200 tigers,WII scientists estimate it may have no more than 12.
With the budget for tiger conservation hiked by more than 50 per cent this time to a little over Rs 180 crore,Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh wondered if funding should be linked to tiger numbers. Should there be a minimum tiger density below which there should be no funding? Should these reserves not get funding? Ramesh asked at the meeting,while underlining that the thinking was not to denotify any reserves.
However,Indravati was a different case. I believe it should be denotified as efforts to stabilise the reserve have not worked, Gopal said. This is a state problem. If there can be any solution at all,it would be at the political level,if the Chief Minister decides to intervene.