The Union Cabinet’s decision on Thursday demarcating the duties of the central and state governments and field-level officials for tiger protection could prevent a repeat of Sariska and Panna.
In 2005, tigers vanished from Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan and it was repeated happened in the Panna reserve in Madhya Pradesh in 2009.
“The new agreement will bring accountability,” said Valmik Thapar, a tiger conservationist who was first to raise the issue of mass tiger deaths in Sariska. “The state governments and tiger reserve directors would now be responsible for tiger deaths.”
While over 50 tigers died in Sariska and Panna combined, not a single official was punished. A Special Investigation Team constituted to investigate tiger deaths in Panna in April 2009 failed to fix responsibility as Panna got seven field directors in five years. “We can only say the system failed as not enough time was given to individuals to work in the reserve,” said P K Sen, who headed the probe team.
The tripartite agreement to be signed with 17 states and 37 reserves in the next one month has specific duties for the Centre, state governments and field directors, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority, an Environment Ministry statutory body, will provide over Rs 600 crore to reserves in the next four years and will conduct ecological audit to see if the money has been properly utilized.
The states will have 20 obligations like preparing a tiger conservation plan, posting motivated officers, filling vacancies.
The biggest challenge is for the reserve directors, who have been given 30 responsibilities. They will be answerable for tiger deaths, utilization of funds and will have to coordinate with local panchayat bodies to check man-animal conflict — the cause of 45 tiger deaths this year.