Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Project Tiger is only a paper tiger: CAG

Smitha Rao
[ 26 Sep, 2006 2307hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

BANGALORE, India: The growl in the Project Tiger has been muzzled. Of the six new tiger reserves approved by the government of India in the Ninth Plan, only four have been created.

Tigers breed well and their population grows rapidly in habitats that are without disturbance, but 64,951 families are living inside the forests and, of these, 17,650 families are within the core areas, where tiger breeding is possible.

These families have to be shifted out for better management of forests and to increase the tiger population. But the Tenth Plan has approved only Rs 10.50 crore for relocation of these families, while the requirement is Rs 11,041 crore.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), who has compiled these facts in a comprehensive report — Conservation and Protection of Tigers in Tiger Reserves — has indicted the Union ministry of environment and forests and also state governments for their tardy progress in protecting the national animal.

The very issues that conservationists and experts have been warning about have come home to roost. One of the most damning observations of the Project Tiger reads: "Project Tiger authorities have not developed any accepted norms for sustaining a viable tiger population."

The observation was inspired by strong statistics — in the 15 tiger reserves created nationally up to 1984, the total number of tigers increased from 1,121 in 1984 to only 1,141 in 2001-02 — which shows the ineffectiveness of the measures taken by Project Tiger authorities to attain a viable tiger population.

K Ullas Karanth, tiger researcher and director, Wildlife Conservation Society, seconds that no regulatory mechanism is in place.

"If you don't set a limit on the number of tourists/vehicles visiting the reserves, then you must face the consequences on ecology. In Ranthambore, for example, virtually every area is thrown open.

The mission drift of Project Tiger is the single biggest problem. The entire forest service structure has to undergo a radical overhaul," he says, declaring that the forest department is no exception to financial mismanagement.

There's more: Any and every measure suggested and implemented, albeit ineffectively, has been criticised.

Protection measures in the tiger reserves are weak due to the absence of measures to combat poaching, poor communication network, inadequate provision of arms and ammunition, deficiencies in creation of strike force, poor intelligence gathering, inadequate patrolling camps and tardy progress in concluding the cases of wildlife crimes.

As a result, poaching has continued and touched an annual level of 22 over a period of six years.

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