More tiger conservation bodies must be enablers
If a complete revamp does not happen, the future of the tiger will be totally dependent on the ability of the statesUpdated: Jun 22, 2018 07:21 IST
IN 1992 I joined the steering committee of Project Tiger at the invitation of Kamal Nath, the then minister of environment and forests. He made it clear to all of us that non-governmental experts who served the committee should travel extensively to all the tiger reserves, solve their problems and enable them to flourish. Till 2007, I did nothing else and our committee was known to be a bunch of experts that could really help. We worked through many a crisis including the extinction of tigers in Sariska and Panna. I served on the Prime Minister’s Tiger Task Force in an effort to usher in change. But there were many in the government who wanted more powers for the federal structure and soon came the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). It was born in 2006-2007 and was empowered under the Wildlife Protection Act. A poorly drafted document now purported to give the federal structure of the NTCA enormous powers of providing the states with mandatory advice. Instead of an enabler, the structure created became an unquestionable authority.
Over the next few years, huge compendiums of advisories were created for the ever-increasing tiger reserves. They were rarely site-specific. They generalised and those giving advice were seldom those who understood the tiger’s needs. It was as if the federal structure was on a power trip. Many of those who ruled the NTCA had forgotten the earlier years. Now targets became vital and more and more tiger reserves were declared with either no tigers in them or with less than five tigers in them such as Mukundra. No one was held answerable for the debacles in Panna and Sariska.
What the NTCA forgot was that in the field were forest officers like themselves doing a hard day’s work. The last thing they needed was advice that made no sense. After all, the people giving advice were neither especially trained in tiger conservation, nor wildlife management. All that these advisories did was to create confusion in the field. Yet, because of some of our independent scientists such as Dr Ullas Karanth, our methods of counting improved and our estimations of tiger numbers became more accurate. Dr Karanth worked hard in the NTCA for this change. The tragedy is the scant respect the NTCA has given him.
Many states like Rajasthan and, to some extent, Maharashtra are fighting back, providing their own site-specific solutions. All this has been met with much displeasure by the NTCA. With 66 tigers, more than 1,20,000 visitors and Rs 35 crore in revenue each year, Rajasthan, has, in fact proved that you can have the highest number of tigers ever with the highest revenue and visitor footfalls. Instead of celebrating their success, the NTCA has attacked their tourism policies. They have little respect for the fact that Ranthambhore is a self-sufficient park. This fact would be celebrated across the world but not by the NTCA. When the Mukundra tiger reserve was repopulated with its first tiger, the NTCA jumped in again to give notice of both the way it was done and the spot it was done on.
How do we usher in reform in the NTCA?
First, I think, all officers deputed to the NTCA must have a special six-month course in tiger conservation. The course should be crafted by the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun and course instructors must be experts from regions. Second, each state has experts in their State Board of Wildlife (SBWL). It must become mandatory for officers of the NTCA in Delhi to attend meetings of the SBWL across India and learn about the field from their knowledge. Third, the NTCA must learn the humility of purpose in its mandate. We are a federal structure. You cannot order the states around. Create an open dialogue and discussion with your critics. Learn from them. Expand the horizons of your knowledge and, most important, understand that the needs of the tiger differ from place to place. What a tiger needs in Periyar is very different to what a tiger needs in Ranthambhore.
These three points will overhaul the present style of working in the NTCA. We need a complete revamp of all its committees and sub-committees. We need to give it a fresh charge in order to recreate its role of supporting, enabling and helping the states. If this wake-up call does not happen, the future of the tiger will be totally dependent on the ability of the states.
Valmik Thapar has worked for 43 years with wild tigers. He has also written 30 books on India’s tigers and wildlife
The views expressed are personal
First Published: Jun 22, 2018 07:21 IST