Dudhwa in dire straits

Unlike Corbett, the Dudhwa National Park in UP is decaying, even while tiger experts call for urgent and immediate measures to revive the wildlife sanctuary and save the last of the remaining tigers
Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow

Padma Shri recipient Dr Ranjit Bhargava has been working relentlessly for the preservation of environment and wildlife, especially tigers, in UP and Uttaranchal since 1965. A member of the UP Tiger Protection Committee from 1996 to 2002, he has been the founder and chairman of the World Wild Fund for Nature, UP committee, from 1988 to 1998.

While drawing a comparison between the Corbett National Park of Uttaranchal and Dudhwa National Park of UP, he told Hardnews, "Despite the recent deaths of two/three tigers, their numbers have been increasing in Corbett, while in Dudhwa, their numbers have been declining."

Expressing satisfaction at the tiger protection measures and management set-up in Corbett, Bhargava believes that there is no poaching in the park. "There are about 100 tigers in Corbett while in Dudhwa, there are not more than 30 tigers left," he said. There are about 10 more tigers in the Kisangarh area and another 10-15 in Katarina Ghat adding up to a total tiger population of 50-55 in UP. 
Further, tourist infrastructure in Dudhwa is in shambles with elephant rides around the park available only to local officials and senior bureaucrats. The Suhaily barrage has submerged a large area of the park while rivers across it need desilting. Not only that, the park clearly has inadequate prey-base for the few tigers left. For all these reasons, there is an urgent need to revive Dudhwa, he said emphatically. 

Calling it a major international issue, Bhargava opined that the level of tiger conservation in a state can bring credit or discredit to any state government. While urging Chief Minister Mayawati to constitute a high-level committee to revive the heritage of Dudhwa National Park, he hoped that she would expedite the pending proposals to notify the Pilibhit forests as a tiger reserve and bring home some world acclaim for her firm and quick actions towards preserving tigers. 

He criticised successive state governments in UP for the deteriorating condition of tigers in Dudhwa during the last 25 years. "The situation has gone from bad to worse," he said. Even funds from the central government are not being properly spent. "The work begins so late in the day that often the allocated funds lapse," Bhargava disclosed.

Elaborating more on the problems of Dudhwa, he said that a railway line and traffic congestion in the park also causes relentless trouble. He demanded that the central government should take steps to reduce such hindrances.

Regarding the census of tigers in UP, Bhargava said, "In the past, tiger figures in Dudhwa national park have always been fudged. At one time, the state government used to claim that the number of tigers is 175-200 when it actually never crossed a real figure of 150. Now, the state government is claiming the presence of only 109 tigers."

Clearly, Dudhwa is located on a dangerous twilight zone of extinction in a state where all regimes, including the current regime, are marked by high levels of corruption, total apathy towards all public interest issues, inefficiency, and lacking basic and legitimate systems to run the civil society. In this context, who will care for wildlife, nature and tigers? 

That is precisely the reason Bhargava and others are campaigning to put Dudhwa on the national map. If Corbett can be a success story and a precious natural heritage spot despite being in UP earlier, why not Dudhwa? Surely, a great team of committed eco-experts and foresters can achieve the impossible for preservation of the great Indian tiger. Will the Centre and Mayawati make this dream possible in the days to come?

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2010