Conservationists and wildlife department officials across India have welcomed Finance Minister P Chidambaram's announcement on Friday to allocate Rs 500 million to help the critically endangered tiger.
"We welcome this announcement by the minister, though the government has already committed to us Rs 6 billion in the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-2012) for tiger conservation," Rajesh Gopal, director of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) told IANS.
While presenting the Budget for 2008-09 at the Lok Sabha, the finance minister expressed concern over the dwindling number of tigers, calling the situation "alarming".
"I am very happy to hear about the provision...as far as I can remember, this is for the first time that tiger conservation has been headlined in an annual budget", Maharashtra Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) AK Saxena told IANS.
While welcoming the extra grant, some conservationists felt it should be disbursed effectively in the field and should not lie idle in the coffers of state governments.
Ashok Kumar, vice chairman of the NGO Wildlife Trust of India said: "The big challenge is to utilise the money effectively in the field. Most of the time it remain unutilised in the states.
"The states should distribute the money to the tiger reserves and to the concerned authorities without delay so that it can be used effectively in tiger conservation."
Saxena however was sure the money would be well spent "to strengthen the tiger protection machinery" in Maharashtra's three main reserves - Tadoba-Andhari in Chandrapur district, Melghat in Amravati district and Pench in Nagpur district.
Welcoming the budget provision, Wildlife Protection Society of India's central India director Nitin Desai said the fund should be mainly utilised for strengthening the anti-poaching machinery on the ground level.
"While the wildlife crime control bureau should be asked to crack down on poaching rackets and smuggling syndicates involved in clandestine trade in tiger skin, poaching, particularly in the non-protected areas around tiger reserves should be dealt with sternly with the now available dedicated fund," Desai said.
Tiger conservation activist Kishor Rithe has urged the state government to expeditiously set up tiger reserve foundations provided for in the 2006 amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act's so as to ensure that the newly created tiger conservation fund is properly utilised.
"The national tiger conservation authority envisages creation of a foundation within each tiger reserve which would receive funds meant for tiger protection directly but the Maharashtra government is yet to do it" Rithe, the president of Satpuda Foundation, a Vidarbha based NGO, pointed out.
Bittu Sahgal, editor of the conservation magazine Sanctuary, said: "The amount of money spent on destroying the tiger habitat is 100 times more than the money granted for the National Tiger Conservation Authority. The entire belt of Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand will be destroyed."
In a report earlier this month, the NTCA had announced that India now has only about 1,411 tigers left in the wild.