New Delhi, August 27
As the government prepares to set up a national tiger conservation authority and a wildlife crime bureau in the country by approving the Wildlife (protection) Amendment Bill this Friday, its most ambitious wildlife conservation venture, Project Tiger, has came under wide criticism from the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).
Slamming the project for being dogged with mismanagement and violation of norms in tiger reserves, the CAG report tabled in Parliament the same day says that there has been an increase of just 20 tigers in 18 years in 15 Tiger Reserves set up till 1984. This, says the 2005-06 report, highlights the ineffectiveness of measures taken under the project.
In all tiger reserves set up till 1984, the tiger population rose from 1,121 to 1,141 in 2001-02, which, CAG says, highlights the ineffectiveness of measures taken under the project to attain a viable tiger population.
The pug-mark method for tiger census, being used to count tigers till the infamous Sariska episode, also came under much fire. This, incidentally, is one point on which the Environment Ministry also agrees. Admitting that pug-mark method has many loopholes, the ministry says the Project Tiger Directorate and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) are now in the middle of the world's most massive exercise under the “monitoring tigers, co-predators, prey and their habitat project”.
Which means that the question on how many tigers there are in the country will finally be answered by the end of 2007. While the data collection for the phase-I and phase-II of the project is complete, the data collection for phase-III is currently on and the final report is expected to be complete by November, 2007. The elaborate exercise, involving camera traps and digital photography of pug-marks, will be undertaken regularly to arrive at exact number of tigers, density, source population, habitat quality, areas where the number of tigers is decreasing and why, besides other factors, in the six tiger-occupied landscape complexes in the country.
The Project has also been criticised for “adhocism, lack of monitoring and manpower, failure to enforce wildlife protection laws and to remove human encroachment in tiger reserves, contradictions between management plans and annual plans, lack of foolproof methods for counting tigers and lack of norms in the creation of reserves”.
CAG says that the very creation of tiger reserves has been inconsistent with norms. While the Special Task Force decided in 1972 to create tiger reserves with an average area of 1500 sq km with at least 300 sq km as the core area, the 15 Reserves created under the Project Tiger have less than 720 sq km, less than half of the prescribed.
Adverse impact of the continuation of tourism activities and human settlements has also been pointed out, besides the fact that the conflict between promotion of tourism and earning of revenue on the one hand and ecological protection of the tiger habitat on the other remained unresolved. The government, CAG pointed out, should frame a comprehensive tourism management policy for tiger reserves clearly spelling out the role of the Project Tiger Directorate and the state authorities.
In addition, lack of adequate protection measures, absence of measures to combat poaching, poor communication network, inadequate provision of arms and ammunition, deficiencies in creation of strike force, poor intelligence gathering and tardy progress in concluding cases of wildlife crime, added to the woes of tiger conservation project. As a result, poaching of tigers continues and touched an annual rate of 22 over a period of six years.