Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and state wildlife department appear to be on the confrontation mode over notifying a buffer zone around Panna tiger reserve.
Chauhan had been against declaring the buffer zone considering the local opposition, mostly from local mining mafia in the region. The same mafia fired was said to be responsible for firing on police on last Friday resulting in arrest of former dacoit Kuber Singh in connection with illegal sand mining from around Panna forests.
“People are more important than tigers,” Chauhan had said when the local wild-lifers and the environment ministry sought declaring a green buffer zone around the reserve. He also rejected any move to declare buffer zone.
Now, the internal response to the chief inister’s claim assessed by HT shows that the wildlife wing of the state government was against non declaration of buffer zone around Panna, which 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. But, Panna was kept in abeyance because of resistance by local people, which the wildlife department described as “misconception”.
“It will be kept in mind that no existing mine get closed because of declaration of the buffer zone,” the then chief conservator of forest HS Pabla, in an internal note. He also claimed that if the buffer zone is not declared the state government may face problem in getting Rs 535 crore from the Central government necessary to relocate four villages in the core area of the tiger reserve.
Relocation of these villages is must to provide inviolate area to relocated tigers and declaration of the buffer zone will provide space for 12 tigers in the reserve to spread out.
“Or else, the tiger would die because of infighting for space,” a local forest official said.
Highlighting the conservation issues linked with declaring buffer zone in Panne, the chief conservator also said that chief inister (Chauhan) should be apprised of the facts so that buffer zone can be declared in Panna tiger reserve.
Despite a strong appeal by the wildlife department the state government had failed to declare a buffer zone in Panna resulting in large-scale illegal mining of stone and sand from Betwa river, a key source of water in the tiger reserve. Even the National Tiger Conservation Authority had repeatedly asked the state government to declare a buffer zone around Panna tiger reserve.