Wednesday, July 25, 2007 (New Delhi)
Finally, the Centre comes clean, India has lost just too many tigers so now the prime minister is himself stepping in to launch what many believe is the last battle to save the big cat. However, the numbers of big cats left in the country are simply shocking.
The national tiger census figures are still some months away, but field reports suggest the national count may come down by about 60 per cent.
"The picture outside the tiger reserves and some of the protected areas is not good. We may not have 50 per cent tigers outside the reserves system," said Rajesh Gopal, Member-Secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority.
The four main states of the tiger belt Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh have already recorded a loss of about 750 tigers, that's more than 60 per cent since 2002.
"Because the land use outside, it may not hold viable population of tigers. So may be the trend gets repeated, Gopal added.
On being asked whether tiger numbers are more than 1,400, Gopal replied that we will have to wait for the final outcome.
Gopal sounds cautious, as many states are not ready to acknowledge the crisis. Till now, states conducted their own tiger counts and their ambitious numbers added up to nearly 4,000.
This time, the Centre is in charge and many states are contesting the more realistic findings. Also, many states are yet to respond to directives issued by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
"Advisories have gone to the states, some states have responded but we need more responses from several other states. Fortunately, the prime minister himself wanted the real picture," Gopal further said.
"We gave a complete picture of the situation the meeting was very useful. We have issued directives for deploying the ex-Army personnel along with the native workforce through central assistance, which we give to states," he said.
"Monsoon patrolling is required to be done urgently. We are coming with a better relocation package so that all the 273 villages that are in the core get a fare deal," Gopal added.
Other key measures include:
* Central assistance to states for recruiting forest guards.
* Creation of a Park Development Fund.
Two and half years after the Sariska fiasco, the government is finally out of its denial mode.
With tiger numbers down to about one-third of what was being officially claimed till recently, the prime minister's positive intervention is perhaps the last hope for the big cat's future in India. Only if, the states come clean and offer full cooperation.