New Delhi, November 27, 2006: "Setting up a National Tiger Conservation Authority was a key recommendation of the Tiger Task Force, and we welcome this step. The real test begins now: the Authority must have clear goals to be able to make a difference," said Sunita Narain, director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) at a press briefing here today. Narain had headed the Tiger Task Force set up by the prime minister in 2005 to investigate the tiger crisis and to suggest ways to safeguard the magnificent animal.
Detailing the future agenda, Narain said that today India is protecting its tigers against all odds; the biggest threat to the tiger today is not poaching per se, but a deadly combination of the poachers' guns and the growing anger of people who live in and around tiger habitats. "In these circumstances", she pointed out, "if the defences are down, protection will fail, like it did in Sariska. The challenge is to ensure that the siege can be lifted so that tigers can survive."
The agenda for the newly constituted National Tiger Conservation Authority, therefore, must include urgent steps towards immediate protection of each tiger reserve, as well as steps to safeguard the tiger in the long run by deliberately sharing the benefits of conservation with the local people. Narain detailed a 10-point agenda for action, which has emerged from the report of the Task Force.
The protection agenda:
In its detailed analysis, the Tiger Task Force had pointed out that the reserves needed specific strategies for protection. It had provided information on the number of guards; their vacancies; the area covered by them; the patrolling camps in each reserve, etc. The Task Force had recommended that each reserve must have a carefully designed strategy to suit its local conditions. It had also asked for urgent recruitment of guards, to be done as far as possible from among local villagers. The key agenda for the Authority is to develop and implement these specific strategies for protection of each tiger reserve, particularly in insurgency and Naxalite-affected areas. "The Authority must also procure a list of vacancies in each reserve and route money through the Tiger Conservation Foundation to pay for forest guards, hired from among local communities," said Narain.
Fighting tiger crimes:
The Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2006 also includes the setting up of the Tiger and Other Endangered Species Crime Control Bureau, which was another key recommendation of the Tiger Task Force. This Wildlife Crime Control Bureau must, as suggested by the Task Force, work to strengthen enforcement at the state level; to investigate international trade links; and to break the network of poachers. The bureau needs to be set up urgently. Simultaneously, the Authority must initiate programmes to involve the local hunting tribes in the management of reserves and provide resources for their development.
Counting tiger numbers
It is essential to get reliable estimates of the numbers of tigers in the country so that policy can be better informed. The Tiger Task Force had, after detailed discussions, recommended the need to go beyond the pugmark method. The Task Force had endorsed the revised census methodology which would include both GIS and spatial information; prey density; as well as techniques like camera traps for tiger counts. "We recognise that this is a time-consuming and vastly complicated exercise. But it is essential that this revised census, which is being done across the tiger range states for the past one year, is completed and the data put out in the public domain. The Authority must finalise an urgent schedule for this work," said Narain.
Relocation and coexistence agenda:
The Task Force report had outlined a twin strategy for tiger conservation. On the one hand, areas must be made 'inviolate' for tigers by identifying villages that needed relocation. The Task Force had, for the first time, collected information on the numbers of people who continued to live in the reserves. The facts were devastating: it was clear that in the last 30 years, only 80-odd villages had been relocated from all the 28 reserves. The quality of relocation had only created more hostility against the tiger. The report had said that another 1,500 villages exist inside, of which 250 are within core areas of tiger reserves and must be relocated.
The Authority must work on a time-bound programme to identify those villages that must be relocated for tiger conservation. It must also ensure that unlike in the past, this relocation must be done speedily and sensitively, with careful consideration of the needs of the people.
The package for relocation must be revised.
On the other hand, the Task Force had also cautioned that it would not be possible, given the past track record and the logistical hurdles, to relocate all villages: "In this case, the country has no choice but to make peace with the communities that share the tiger's home. If not, we will lose the 'war of conservation', tiger by tiger." The agenda for the Authority, then, is to find ways of ensuring that the benefits of conservation are shared with local people. This can be done in a variety of ways - from "preferential shares in tourism to collaborative management involving communities".
Said Narain: "The agenda to secure the tiger's future is in our hands. We need tough action, not just words to make the difference."
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The agenda for action
1. Set up the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and conduct an annual independent audit of tiger reserves.
2. Develop and implement specific strategies for protection of each tiger reserve.
3. Develop specific strategies for tiger reserves in insurgency and Naxalite-affected areas.
4. Procure list of vacancies in each reserve and route funds through the Tiger Conservation Foundation to pay for forest guards, hired from among local communities.
5. Develop specific programmes for working with hunting tribes in each reserve.
6. Publish the national census of tigers by year-end or early next year.
7. Finalise the list and schedule of priority villages that need to be relocated.
8. Develop strategies for joint-collaborative-inclusive management in reserves.
9. Review eco-development strategies in buffer/fringe areas and work out special package in collaboration with territorial forest/revenue departments.
10. Ask for specific plan for tourism for each reserve, which includes money from gates to be used in reserve, allocation of tourism activities for local people etc.