The furore over a tiger being knocked over by a speeding vehicle in Bandhavgarh had hardly settled when news of the carcass of a cub — burnt after its paws were chopped off for some tantric ritual by forest chowkidars and a member of a village eco-development committee at the Pench Tiger Reserve — filtered in. It is suspected that the killing might be a cover-up for poaching. Either way, it is bad news — it is just the latest instance where Madhya Pradesh has shown a shameful disregard for the national animal.
With the highest number of tigers in India at about 300 (the number is disputed), Madhya Pradesh is the ‘tiger state of India’. For years it has worn this badge with pride, nurturing its tigers and their sanctuaries. MP has no less than six tiger reserves, including Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pench and Panna. In addition to the Satpura National Park, which is another haven for tigers, there’s also the Sanjay Dubri Wildlife Sanctuary.
Then came the Panna debacle. Enough has been written about Panna’s vanishing tigers. At Panna, tigers were poached, trapped and poisoned, even as state officials claimed that all was well in the face of repeated warnings by researchers, conservationists and by the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court. There was evidence that the skins of Panna tigers were sold for profit. Rather than protecting its tigers, the state concentrated on concocting pugmarks, cooking up census figures and producing paper tigers. Eventually, in May 2009, Panna was declared ‘tigerless’. Till date, there have been no arrests, and the officials responsible for the decline — and the consequent cover-up — have not been held accountable.
This attitudinal indifference to tiger conservation has been witnessed repeatedly. The state government cleared the proposal for the expansion of NH7, which cuts through the critical Kanha-Pench corridor, threatening one of the four most vital tiger reserves in the country. The proposal for expansion has met with a strong refusal from the central government. As if pushing for the NH7 wasn’t bad enough, the Madhya Pradesh government then advocated a high-end private tourism proposal on the same corridor. While there is no denying the benefits of sensitive tourism, having a tourist resort that would cut through a tiger habitat was insensitive on the part of the state authorities.
The less said about the recent May 18 ‘accident’ in Bandhavgarh, the better. A tigress with her three young cubs was run over by a vehicle belonging to the sanctuary. One wonders how the vehicle with officials got there when vehicular movement in the park is banned at night. While the machinery to save the guilty is working overtime, an impartial CBI inquiry that was recommended has not been done yet. It’s important to note that this is allegedly the fourth incident, the third in Bandhavgarh, of a tiger being run over. The fourth tiger death, that apparently involved a forest administration vehicle in Kanha, remains unconfirmed.
The state is currently pre-occupied with plans to set up a captive breeding centre for white tigers in Rewa. It’s a fancy idea, bound to attract media attention and many tourists, but white tigers are the offshoot of a recessive mutant gene and have zero conservation value. Why concentrate on, and pour funds into, such inane schemes when our tiger reserves remain starved of funds and focus? So the question that arises at this point of time is whether MP still deserves its status of a tiger state. It’s true that it still has the maximum number of tigers in the country, but aren’t numbers really a moot point when it has failed to protect and respect its tigers.
Prerna Singh Bindra is an environment journalist and editor of TigerLink
The views expressed by the author are personal