Forget about the Budget allocation for tiger conservation — the process is what really counts. While it is fine to say that the tiger is, after the Taj, India's biggest tourist draw, a larger budget on this count may not solve the problem of the vanishing tiger.
It will lead to a stronger forest department, without doing the animal much good. The forest bureaucracy has done little by way of environment protection and conservation to inspire any kind of confidence.
It antagonises local communities by treating demarcated forest areas, sanctuaries and national parks as its zamindari, which in turn allows it to collaborate with poachers without being answerable to anyone.
Hence, conservationists are mistaken when they lay stress on increasing the workforce of the forest department in order to combat poaching.
Tiger conservation is best achieved when local communities are made central to the project. A focus on conservation is best replaced by one that promotes the tiger trail by encouraging hotels and tourist infrastructure within the vicinity of forest areas — subject, of course, to environmental regulations.
Once locals realise that tiger tourism rakes in more money than poaching, they will develop a vested interest in protecting the tiger and its habitat.
The involvement of local populations in Kenya has worked as a model of wildlife and environment conservation. In India, gram sabhas can be vested with the responsibility of managing forest regions, allowing them a stake in proceeds such as entry fees.
For too long has India persisted with a state-centred approach to conservation and environment protection. A process that relocates people from forests borders on the absurd — they are shifted elsewhere, requiring the government to cut trees and displace other settled populations.
Trees and animals are best preserved by those who realise their material usefulness. The Tawa Matsya Sangh is an example in this respect.
The organisation comprises people who run a fishermen's cooperative in the midst of a forest and realise the value of the forest as a source of livelihood — unlike a babu who gets his salary from elsewhere.
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