A massive fund crunch is starving India’s flagship tiger conservation programme. The Centre has decided to reduce its allocation from this financial year for the project to save the big cats with a clutch of national parks –Corbett in Uttarakhand, Ranthambore in Rajasthan, Bandhavgarh and Kanha in Madhya Pradesh –feeling the pinch.
The finance minister in October slashed allocations for 16 centrally sponsored schemes including Project Tiger for which the environment ministry used to provide 100% funding for non-recurring expenses.
Under the new system, the Centre will provide only 60% of the total non-recurring expenditure. States and the Centre will continue to share equally the expenditure for recurring items.
The previous fund-sharing mechanism was in existence since 1973 when Project Tiger was conceived to protect the animals across India.
The programme’s budget was increased to over Rs 600 crore in the 11th five- year plan and as many as 48 tiger reserves in 18 states were brought under the national wildlife protection scheme.
But, the Centre decided to reduce its share citing the 14th Finance Commission recommendations which increased direct flow of money to the states from 32% to 42% beginning the financial year 2015-16.
This means that states would provide additional money for these schemes from a larger financial kitty.
That has not happened and as a result special protection measures in tiger reserves have come to a grinding halt.
Some reserves have stopped setting up special tiger protection forces, others have postponed installing electronic surveillance systems for anti-poaching activities and relocation of villages to create inviolate areas in a large number of reserves has been indefinitely delayed.
“Less funds means I will have lesser staff on the ground for patrolling and no money to support our anti poaching activities as well as infrastructure. It’s a serious blow to tiger protection,” said Samir Sinha, director of the Corbett Tiger Reserve, which has the highest density of tigers in the country and is prone to poaching because of its proximity to the Indo-Nepal border – a popular tiger poaching route.
Officials in Corbett say the park will see its annual budget of Rs 7.5 crore being reduced by about a third.
Similarly in Rajasthan, which has two major tiger reserves at Ranthambore and Sariska, the impact of the Centre’s decision is apparent.
Government officials say the relocation of villages from Rathambore and Sariska would be hit as villagers are demanding packages worth more than Rs 10 lakh due to which many hamlets are still located inside the reserves.
Rajasthan forest department officials said slashing of the central assistance would also have an adverse impact on infrastructure and manpower needed for monitoring of tigers and surveillance of the reserves.
“We are studying the budget structure to prepare a plan which will be sent to the state government for review before finally sending it to the Centre,” said the state’s chief wildlife warden, RK Tyagi, adding that the Rajasthan government would plan the future course of action only after a reply from the Centre.
Madhya Pradesh with six tiger reserves is at greater risk and has been forced to cut down on frontline staff deployed for protection.
The sanctioned amount from the Union government has been reduced by 32% in 2015-16, contributing to the crisis.
Sources in the forest department said as against Rs 41.35 crore sanctioned for six tiger reserves by the Centre in 2014-15, the Union government has reduced the amount to Rs 27.92 crore this fiscal year.
Chief wildlife warden of MP, Ravi Shrivastava, refused to comment on the impact the cuts had on the management of tiger reserves. “We will manage somehow,” he said.
Hemendre Kothari, chairman of the Mumbai-based Wildlife Conservation Trust, urged the government to restore the previous funding mechanism from the next financial year, saying the cutback would dent the future of flagship species and could lead to further degradation of forests.
The view of the states was echoed by environment minister Prakash Javadekar in a letter to finance minister Arun Jaitely, urging him to restore the earlier funding plan.
“In view of the immense gains to society under the Project Tiger, its character of 50% support for recurring activities and 100% support for non-recurring items, as has been operational since 1973, should be retained as a special case,” Javadekar wrote to Jaitley earlier this month.
Javadekar also said that a 30% increase in tiger population— from 1,706 to 2,226 tigers— which is 70% of the world’s total tiger population, was “largely attributable” to the scheme being completely funded by the central government.
He highlighted four anti-poaching measures – village relocation, special tiger force, building of new infrastructure and use of innovative technologies – introduced because of central intervention, as reasons for the jump in tiger numbers.
(With inputs from Rahul Noronha in Bhopal, Anupam Trivedi in Dehradun and Rashpal Singh in Jaipur)