Parliament for Tigers

Published: June 4, 2010 - 17:00 Updated: June 4, 2010 - 18:18

Following the tiger trail, Hardnews talks to four MPs on what it takes to save the big cat

Talk of tigers and KC Singh Baba, with child-like gusto, starts narrating his encounters with the animal and how he fell in love with the great predator the first time he saw it. An MP from Nainital, Uttarakhand, some areas of Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR) fall in his constituency and this has given Baba, a nature lover, more than one reason to preserve the flora and fauna of the CTR. On several occasions, he has voiced his opinion on how to save the tiger and its habitat. Hardnews caught up with Baba to discuss various facets of tiger conservation

What are your views on the tiger conservation plans in India?
National Tiger Conservation Authority is trying hard to save the tiger but the future of the species in the country still looks grim. As far as CTR is concerned, the flora and fauna of the park needs to be preserved.
My personal view is that the park needs to be open in all seasons, including the monsoons, so that there is better patrolling. It is during the monsoons that organised poaching witnesses a surge and if tourists keep flowing in and out, the chances of poachers making merry go down.

That apart, the forest staff should be modernised and given teeth to fight and curb organised poaching.

Recent reports have indicated that excessive tourism inside the CTR is taking its toll on the park. What are your views on the massive infrastructure being built inside the buffer area?
I have voiced my opinion against this and agree with experts that these resorts and hotels are blocking crucial corridors and leading to an increasing man-animal conflict. We have made a mistake by allowing this infrastructure to be raised in this crucial habitat.
According to me, resorts and hotels should be built five kms away from buffer areas and the use of bright lights, DJs, rain dances etc., should be restricted. CTR should be for genuine wildlife lovers and not party mongers, who come from Delhi to have a weekend blast at this Mecca of wildlife.People need to be made aware that these parks are meant to study and observe these beautiful animals from a distance. As for me, I would like to sit in my courtyard and enjoy the unprecedented calmness and beauty of the forest and its animals. 

What is your opinion about the working of the forest department and what needs to be done?
One flaw that I have noticed is that people with no experience of forests are given the task to save them. Someone with credible experience in wildlife should be handed over the task to save the flora and fauna, and the same should apply for directors. For example, injured animals are handed over to forest department but they don't have the potential and workforce to deal with it, which eventually leads to animal deaths.For such issues, participation of civil society and genuine animal lovers is crucial, but for that to happen, government and other concerned authorities should acknowledge it. 

Additionally, there should be a blanket ban on giving plantation contracts to private parties, who also get involved in timber poaching. 

A spate of revenge killings by villagers is also taking its toll on the tigers of Corbett. How can this be avoided?
Adequate compensation should be given to the villagers if their domesticated animals are killed by the big cat. Additionally, many tigers fall prey to snare traps that are intended to kill wild boars. Wild boars destroy crops and this leads to confrontation and sometimes tigers fall victim to this rivalry. Hence, decent compensation should also be paid for crops destroyed by wild animals. Forest department should try and maintain cordial relations with the villagers, which is not the case. Also Gujjars, who don't have tribal status, should be relocated outside the forests as they are depleting the forests by letting their animals graze well inside the core area.

Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) is situated in the Western Ghats in Thekkady district of Kerala. The reserve is rich in biodiversity and hosts a large population of animals ranging from tigers to elephants, leopards, barking deer, wild dogs etc. It was declared a tiger reserve in 1978 and has for decades been a hotbed for tigers. Hardnews spoke to PT Thomas, MP from Thekkady, on his tryst with wildlife and tiger conservation

What has been the progress of tiger conservation in PTR?
Keralites are far away from concepts like ecological conservation or preserving the flora and fauna. The preservation of wildlife is of crucial importance and public opinion should be built around it. Farmers living near forest areas are only worried about their crops and domestic animals, and care little about preservation. Local farmers should be made aware of the crisis faced by wildlife and educated about its impact on our planet.  

What has been the role of forest authorities in PTR?
The intentions of the authorities are good but whether the funds earmarked for these parks are reaching the concerned department, whether they are being utilised and reaching the right man at the right place, needs special attention. I came to know that I was part of a committee for Periyar conservation only when I read about it in the newspapers!

Locals and other authorities should be updated about such projects as most of them are oblivious to tiger conservation.

Have you ever raised any question regarding PTR in the Parliament?
I was never kept in the loop of things. I did, however, raise the question about PTR with Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh soon after I came to Delhi as MP from Thekkady. I told him that as an MP I should be furnished with details about funds, census and any other activity related to PTR. He was very interested and assured me that measures would be taken to ensure transparency in the working of PTR. 

What is the way forward to resolve this issue of lack of transparency and awareness?
Forest officials should take locals into confidence and work out a strategy with them, so that awareness can be spread without any hostility. Additionally, school and college students should be made aware about ecology and the harm we inflict upon wildlife. Monkeys and wild boars destroy crops, and this has led to a confrontation between animals and man. One needs to explain to farmers that it is because they have destroyed the animals' habitat that they are turning to their fields for food. But simultaneously the government should compensate farmers in case wild animals destroy crops or kill domesticated animals.

'Buxa Tiger Reserve shares a common thread with other tiger reserves in the country - the tiger numbers, like elsewhere, have witnessed a sharp drop in the past few years. There were 32 tigers in 1997 while a recent Wildlife Institute of India estimate put the number at a dismal 10. Buxa falls in the Jalpaiguri constituency of West Bengal. Hardnews caught up with Mahendra Kumar Roy, MP from Jalpaiguri, for his views on the crisis in Buxa

What are your views on the tiger conservation plans in Buxa?
Tiger conservation is a focal issue and needs to be dealt with great concern and accountability. Jalpaiguri is famous for timber poaching, which is resulting in loss of habitat not only for tigers but for other animals too. The level of human intervention in Buxa is way too high and this is creating an increasing conflict between man and animal. Despite this, the forest department is way too lazy, or sometimes in collusion with the timber mafia, to pay any heed to the depleting forest cover. 

What else do you think is making survival difficult for the tigers in Buxa?
There is a highway that goes through Buxa tiger reserve and there is a constant movement of trucks, buses and other small vehicles all through the day and night. As a member of the West Bengal Wildlife Board, I had proposed to close the road so that the area could be used as a corridor for animals to move. However, no heed was paid to the proposal.

Apart from this, North Bengal has a mammoth elephant population and with most of the forest cover gone, these animals have no food source left. This has led to elephants invading agricultural lands and creating an increased human-animal conflict. Due to this increased conflict, animals sometimes die due to poisoning and snare traps. Similarly, scores of humans die because of elephants and the sole reason for all this is the disappearing forest cover.

What according to you is the state of tigers in Sunderbans?
There is a shortage of prey base in Sunderbans and that is again creating increased conflict with the tiger. People also enter the forest to collect firewood, honey etc., and are sometimes killed by the tiger. But, I don't think that poaching happens in Sunderbans as people are too afraid of the tiger and would not dare invade its territory to kill it. 

There is also a strong need for rehabilitating the people from Sunderbans as they are very poor and their islands are getting submerged due to high sea levels caused by climate change. 

Do you believe that tiger reserves should have such unprecedented tourism?
No, I believe that tourism should be controlled and lesser number of people should be allowed to visit national parks. Parks should be strictly for wildlife lovers and not party animals.

Sanjay Jaiswal is MP from West Champaran, Bihar, and also a doctor by profession. His constituency includes the famous Valmiki Tiger Reserve. Jaiswal has keen interest in wildlife and tries to ensure that the reserve maintains its rich flora and fauna. Hardnews spoke to Jaiswal on the state of tigers in Valmiki

Do you think Tigers would survive in India and Valmiki?
This great predator would soon disappear from the jungles of India, and especially Valmiki, if some concrete actions are not taken immediately. From 58 tigers in 2004 the numbers dropped drastically to 10 or 11 in 2009. Rampant organised poaching is taking its toll on the tigers of Valmiki and the numbers are depleting fast because of the government's inaction. Tigers can't just be saved through advertisements, there needs to be a strong political will. 

Why do you think are the tigers disappearing from Valmiki?
The state governments don't have much say in the decision- making process. Moreover, most of the forest officials are corrupt and, if you need to control poaching, there has to be accountability. There is a need to hold officials responsible if a single tiger disappears or is poached by criminal gangs. 

Who do you think is behind these depleting numbers? 
I can assure you that locals are not involved in poaching as they have been living with the animal for centuries. It's the outsiders, especially poachers from Madhya Pradesh (MP), who are responsible. Tharus are an indigenous tribe and they fear the tiger and worship it, so the question of them killing the tigers doesn't arise. However, on numerous occasions it has been brought to my notice that certain hunting tribes from MP operate in Valmiki and are solely responsible for tiger disappearances. 

There is Maoist presence in your constituency. Do you think they can be a factor in increasing tiger mortality?
Maoists are no threat to the tigers as they are prominently into arms and drugs smuggling. Most of this smuggling happens from Nepal via Valmiki Nagar and everyone is aware of that. The porous Nepalese border is also one of the reasons for rising tiger mortality as these hunting tribes make a kill, cross the border and sell it in Nepal. 

What is your take on the forest department and its officials?
Even when a single tiger is killed or poached, no action is taken against any forest official. So there is no accountability. No official has been suspended despite the fact that in a short span of time tiger numbers have depleted drastically. There is a strong poacher-smuggler nexus, but hardly anything is being done to bring the guilty behind bars.Poaching always happens in collusion with the forest department and unless the onus of the dying tigers is put on forest officials, tiger deaths would continue unabated, eventually repeating Sariska and Panna.

Following the tiger trail, Hardnews talks to four MPs on what it takes to save the big cat
Hardnews Bureau Delhi

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