India eyes pact with China to save tigers
By James Lamont and Amy Kazmin in New Delhi
Published: May 12 2010 02:33 Last updated: May 12 2010 02:33
India wants to agree on a pact with China to protect its fast dwindling tiger population from extinction, as part of an attempt to capitalise on the goodwill created between the neighbours in their alliance during recent climate change talks.
Closer co-operation between the two countries is seen by some tiger conservationists as key to preserving India's few remaining big cats. A trans-Himalayan agreement to calibrate national strategies would be the first of its kind. India has an estimated 1,400 tigers in the wild.
Jairam Ramesh, India’s environment minister, said tiger conservation was part of a proposed bilateral agenda on environment and natural resources that included sharing information and expertise on Himalayan glaciers and regional water resources. He said a “special relationship” forged at the United Nations climate change talks in Copenhagen last year was ready to address a wider agenda.
“I would like to work very closely with the Chinese on tiger conservation. China is one of the reasons our tiger population is being decimated,” he told the Financial Times.
The killing of tigers is a source of friction between India and China. Indian officials and conservationists say an illegal trade in tiger parts used for medicine encourages poaching. Last year, about 60 tigers were killed in India. Many fell victim to traffickers that operate between India, Nepal and China.
However, Mr Ramesh’s overtures to Beijing reflect India’s ambivalent relationship with its wealthier neighbour. New Delhi recognises the need for closer co-operation on issues such as the environment. Yet India’s security apparatus remains suspicious of Chinese intentions, reflected in India’s informal ban on telecommunications equipment made by China’s Huawei.
Mr Ramesh came under fire in New Delhi on Tuesday for comments made on a trip to China last week, when he called Indian security officials “alarmist” and “paranoid” in their attitude towards Beijing. The Bharatiya Janata party said it would seek Mr Ramesh's resignation, and the minister has also been scolded by Manmohan Singh, prime minister, for his intemperate criticism of other Indian government ministries.
Mr Ramesh, who has visited China four times since he took up office last year, has built up a close relationship with Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate official. He has also been encouraged by China’s preparedness to break new ground with a neighbour it fought a war against in 1962, particularly in the sensitive area of south Asian river systems.
“For the first time, the Chinese shared information on what they are doing on the Brahmaputra river. They’ve never done this before. They are building a 500MW run of the river power station,” said Mr Ramesh. “The Chinese had been very cagey. We don’t have a treaty on the Brahmaputra.”
Mr Ramesh’s ministry stumbled into controversy earlier this month when a top bureaucrat suggested India would consider a ban on tiger tourism to protect the dwindling numbers. Mr Ramesh denied that such draconian measures were under consideration, but that the government sought to lessen the impact of tourism on the creatures’ habitats.
“We are talking of regulating tourism. We are talking about bringing in eco tourism. No one is talking about closing tourism,” he said. “Tourism is the lifeblood of the local community.”
However he warned that uncontrolled resort developments at the world famous Corbett tiger reserve had become a “hazard”.
The Corbett national park has a “buffer zone” around its perimeter where commercial activity is banned. But weak implementation of restrictions has allowed their flouting.