If enhancing funds for tiger conservation is high on its agenda, the government is also facing the huge challenge of man-animal conflict. Reports of loss of life, livestock and crops in animal attacks are not uncommon.
A drive down Bhopal’s new colonies makes one realise that these were once tiger abodes. Small boards warning about the possible presence of tigers in the area are still seen, though the Big Cats may not be there. But, if they do occasionally stroll towards what was their own land, can they be blamed?
The Ministry of Environment and Forests revised the allocation for the Project Tiger to Rs.1,216 crore in August 2011, with a change in the funding pattern for the North-east where the States will have to pay only 10 per cent of the total allocation. This also includes enhancement of compensation to the victims of man-animal conflict. Guidelines have already been issued to the States for doubling the compensation.
Project Tiger has been under implementation since 1973.
Initially, the project started with nine reserves, covering an area of 16,339 sq.km., with a population of 268 tigers. At present, there are 39 reserves with an estimated 1,706 tigers. This amounts to over 1 per cent of the total geographical area of the country. The National Tiger Conservation Authority has been strengthened and decentralised with three Regional Offices at Nagpur, Bengaluru and Guwahati now. Approval has also been given to five more reserves in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Karnataka.
Detailed revised guidelines have been issued for the implementation of Project Tiger and relocation of villages vis-à-vis the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.
A detailed report on the 2010 assessment of the status of tigers, co-predators and their prey shows a countrywide increase of 20 per cent in tiger numbers as against 1,411 tigers in 2006. The country-level assessment, done every four years, also suggested a decline of 12.6 per cent in tiger occupancy from connecting habitats. This has happened in peripheral and dispersal areas having low densities outside tiger reserves and tiger source populations.
According to the Management Effectiveness Evaluation of 39 tiger reserves done in 2010-11 on the basis of the global framework as adapted to Indian conditions, 15 reserves were rated ‘very good,’ 12 as ‘good,’ 8 as ‘satisfactory’ and 4 as ‘poor’ in comparison with the 28 tiger reserves in 2005-06 that led to the conclusion that the ‘very good’ category had increased by 4 per cent, ‘good’ by 3 per cent and ‘satisfactory’ decreased by 7 per cent.
Increasing population, expanding cities and the creation of huge tourist infrastructure in tiger lands often push the solitude-loving tigers away from their habitats. By conserving and saving tigers, which are described as a symbol of wilderness and well-being of the ecosystem, the entire wilderness ecosystem is conserved, ecologists say.
However, the NTCA in October opened up 20 per cent of core areas in tiger reserves to tourists and proposed a new conservation fee for the tourism industry. This will be used for development of ecology and uplift of local communities living nearby.
The new guidelines for tiger tourism also make it mandatory for each reserve to have its own specific tourism plan and bars creation of any new tourist infrastructure inside the core areas. The guidelines say that permitting up to 20 per cent of the core or critical tiger habitat as a tourism zone should not have an adverse effect on the tiger biology needs, subject to the adherence to all other regulations.