Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bengal govt and statistical institute in a pug of war

Bengal govt and statistical institute in a pug of war

Madhumita Mookerji
Friday, March 21, 2008 03:11 IST

Counting of tiger population in the Sundarbans is the bone of contention between the two

KOLKATA: The West Bengal government and the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) seem to be in a battle over pugmarks. And neither is in a mood to back off.

It all began in 2004 when the state government, as part of a larger United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project, commissioned ISI to develop software for identifying tiger pugmarks in the Sunderbans as a counting method.

Supported by a 2004 census, the state forest department provided ISI with sketches of 1,400 pugmarks from the Indian side of the Sunderbans. ISI's job was to ascertain the number of tigers.

But ISI's software picked only 1,059 pugmarks and it concluded that there were only 75 tigers in the Sunderbans.

In 2005, the ISI submitted an interim report, when the state government asked it to re-submit the report "with modifications".

"A few months later, the forest minister officially announced that there were 249 tigers in the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve and 25 in the outside area. Thus, there was confusion," says Prof Debashish Sengupta, who headed the project at ISI. "The state government did not accept or reject the ISI report. Then it subsequently rejected the ISI figure of 75 tigers in the Sunderbans without giving any reason," says Sengupta. "It seemed the state government did not want us to conclude the project," says Sengupta, who stands by the ISI findings.

P Shukla, director, Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve, told DNA: "ISI had submitted the final report but there were some technical issues. We had told them to rectify these. There were problems of identical pugmarks collected from two different places. But ISI officials did not respond. Thus, the entire issue is still hanging fire."

ISI says it still has not been paid 40% of the Rs9-lakh project. To this, Shukla said: "This is because ISI has not submitted a revised report which has to be accepted by the committee concerned."

Meanwhile, the state forest department is going ahead with a tiger census with the Wildlife Institute of India and this is not linked to the ISI study.

"There are various methods of counting - sighting, pugmarks, radio collar and the like. The software to identify pugmarks is a different issue and was commissioned for future use," said Shukla.

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