There couldn’t have been better news than the 30% increase in India’s tiger population for wildlife lovers but it comes at a time when the NDA government is planning to revamp green laws to stimulate economic growth.
Proposed amendments to the Wildlife Protection Act could have an adverse impact on wildlife, including tigers, if enough safeguards aren’t incorporated, say experts. “Relaxed norms shouldn’t be applicable in tiger reserves. They should be protected from developmental pressures,” said leading wildlife biologist K Ullas Karanth.
An example is Madhya Pradesh’s Panna Tiger Reserve — one of the best performing habitats — where 100 square kilometers is set to be diverted for the interlinking of the Ken and Betwa rivers. “The diversion will send a wrong signal about the tiger conservation story,” said Fayaz Khudsar, a wildlife biologist from the state.
Though the increase in the tiger population was announced by the NDA government, credit for the turnaround was also due to former UPA environmental ministers Jairam Ramesh and Jayanti Natarajan.
Neither allowed projects around India’s 47 tiger reserves and key habitats, blocking over 100 deals in the process, and were often criticised for being anti-development.
Their successors, Veerappa Moily and Prakash Javadekar, however, rarely rejected a project in 2014. The impact of this, though, will only be captured in the 2018 census.
One shouldn’t also forget tiger reserves represent just 5% of India’s forest cover and about half the tigers are estimated to be outside protected areas in buffer zones and wildlife corridors. This has resulted in a massive jump in man-tiger conflict with seven people already falling victim to the big cat in the first fortnight of 2015.