Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and the state wildlife department seem to be at loggerheads over notifying a buffer zone around the Panna tiger reserve.
Chauhan was against declaring the area as a buffer zone in consideration of the local opposition, mostly comprising the mining mafia in the region. The same people were said to be responsible for firing at police personnel last Friday, an incident that culminated in the arrest of dacoit-turned-sand miner Kuber Singh."People are more important than tigers," Chauhan had said when local wildlife enthusiasts and the environment ministry sought the declaration of the green buffer zone around the reserve, rejecting any efforts in that regard.
Now, the internal response to the chief minister’s claim – as assessed by the Hindustan Times – shows that the wildlife wing of the state government was against non-declaration of the buffer zone around the Panna reserve, which had lost all its tigers in 2009.
The state government has already declared buffers around four other tiger reserves in the state – Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pench and Satpura. However, Panna was kept in abeyance due to alleged resistance from local residents, which the wildlife department has described as a “misconception”.
“It will be kept in mind that no existing mine is closed due to declaration of the buffer zone,” said then chief conservator of forests HS Pabla in an internal note. He also claimed that if the buffer zone was not declared, the state government may face problems in getting funds amounting to Rs 535 crore from the Centre for relocating four villages in the core area of the tiger reserve.
Relocation of these villages is essential for providing an “inviolate area” to relocated tigers, and declaration of the buffer zone will provide 12 tigers in the reserve with enough space to spread out. “Otherwise, the tigers will die in infighting for space,” a local forest official said.
Despite a strong appeal by the wildlife department, the state government had failed to declare the buffer zone around the reserve, resulting in large-scale illegal mining of stone and sand from Ken river, a key source of water in the forested area. Even the National Tiger Conservation Authority had repeatedly asked the state government to declare the buffer zone.