Independent tiger experts have questioned the management evaluation process of tiger reserves, in which 40% of the reserves were found to be in “very good” state, saying most of the evaluators were from the forest bureaucracy.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority --- the body mandated to protect tigers --- in 2010 had constituted nine committees to evaluate management of 39 tiger reserves across India.
At the first meeting of the committees, two independent wildlife experts, Belinda Wright of Wildlife Protection Society of India and Biswajit Mohanty of Wildlife Society of Orissa had resigned from the evaluation committees protesting against nomination of large number of Indian Forest Service (IFS) officials in the committees.
HK Chaudhury, retired principal conservator of forests, headed the committee to evaluate tiger habitats in his home state of Assam and north-east. CK Shreedharan, a retired IFS officer of Tamil Nadu cadre, was chairperson of the committee to review performance of tiger reserves in south states including Tamil Nadu.
Another two IFS officers --- H Sen and AK Bhardwaj– were nominated as independent experts as they were on deputation to Wildlife Institute of India. IFS officers Rajeev Sharma from West Bengal cadre and RK Dogra from Tamil Nadu cadre were asked to evaluate tiger reserves outside their cadre states.
“With so many IFS officers in the committee it cannot be called an independent evaluation,” said tiger and wildlife expert Valmik Thapar.
The decision to nominate so many IFS officers also went against the idea of independent evaluation mooted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005, after tigers vanished from Sariska tiger reserve in Rajasthan.
“The PM wanted the evaluation to be done by a committee of National Board for Wildlife rather than a government agency,” Thapar said.
The measuring of management effectiveness of tiger reserves released on Thursday rated 15 of the 39 tiger reserves evaluated as very good. Another 12 reserves were rated good and eight satisfactory. Only four tiger reserves got poor rating.
In similar exercise in 2006 of 28 tiger reserves, nine were rated very good and 10 as good. Another even got satisfactory rating and two as poor.
“The evaluation indicates and overall improvement in management of tiger reserves,” the report said.
VB Mathur, Dean at Dehradun based Wildlife Institute of India (WII), defended the evaluation process saying it was totally independent as no change was made in the report even after receiving objections from reserve managers. “We followed an international well settled protocol for evaluation and integrity of the nine evaluation committees,” he said.
Thapar, however, wanted revamp of the entire process saying no IFS officers should be part of the evaluation committees.
“The committees should have people from outside the government having experience in different fields such as sociology, conservation and wildlife protection,” he said.
Rajesh Gopal, member secretary of National Tiger Conservation Authority, which constituted the committees, did not answer to calls or text messages.