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india'sTiger Task Force (ttf), constituted recently to review the management of the country's tiger reserves, concluded its first round of consultations with experts on May 19, 2005 in New Delhi. After the two-day meet, ttf chairperson Sunita Narain observed: "Clamming up on traditional rights of the people to collect forest produce in protected areas has increased the conflict between them and the wildlife."
Close on the heels of Narain's assertions, the judiciousness of this principle was reportedly acknowledged by forest officials from Rajasthan, Uttaranchal and Uttar Pradesh. Presentations made at a meeting during prime minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Sariska tiger reserve on May 23, 2005 apprised him of the opinion of these officials that tigers couldn't be protected without the co-operation from villagers within sanctuaries. Singh expressed deep concern about poaching and the dwindling tiger population: "All is not well with the way we are managing our national parks...Disappearance of tigers is a matter of national concern." He also visited Ranthambhore tiger reserve the next day.
ttf met experts, conservationists and environmentalists as part of its strategy to bring on board expertise from across the country on conservation and wildlife sciences. Narain, who had just concluded her trip to Periyar Tiger Reserve (ptr) in Kerala, emphasised that "the experiments at Periyar in involving people in conservation are certainly a model to emulate for other parks. We shall be looking at them in-depth." She was referring to the participatory model developed in ptr under the government's recently concluded India Ecodevelopment Project.
ttf also decided to review the proposed Wildlife Crime Bureau, which is to be set up along the lines of the Narcotics Bureau. The proposal is not yet available for public review. Based on the unanimous advice of experts, the task force demanded that the multidisciplinary bureau be kept "lean and mean" -- comprising officers who choose it voluntarily and are highly skilled. Responding to rumours that the government is mulling a Rs 163-crore body of 285 people, it said such a large organisation won't be able to tackle the specialised and highly organised crime of wildlife poaching and trade. After going through presentations on various census and sampling techniques to estimate tiger numbers, ttf struck a bold note by saying that India has to stop being obsessed with exact tiger numbers and develop a model based on more scientific methodology to estimate their population with least possible error.
Considering India's federalistic set up, some ttf members stressed that it would be inappropriate to send paramilitary troops for protecting tigers, bypassing centre-state protocols. The issue was raised by the media, which has of late been rife with rumours that tiger conservationists have been pushing for sending armed enforcement to tiger reserves, overriding concerns and objections of the concerned states.