Tiger over wildlife

By Kirtiman Awasthi
Published: Wednesday 31 December 2008

Critical tiger habitats made easy

identification of critical wildlife habitats, a provision in the Forest Rights Act, 2006, has made little progress since the act was notified on December 31, 2007. The reason, an environment ministry official said, was that state governments had not sent any proposal to identify and notify such habitats. Critical wildlife habitats are created in protected areas (national parks, wildlife sanctuaries) and need to be kept inviolate for wildlife conservation.

Under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, there is provision for a critical tiger habitat--inviolate areas in tiger reserves. Several states have sent proposals to the National Tiger Conservation Authority, under the environment ministry, to include protected areas in the list of tiger reserves. The government has approved four new tiger reserves this year and is in the process of identifying them as critical tiger habitats.

Forests rights activists alleged that by declaring protected areas as tiger reserves first and then according the critical status, states were trying to bypass the forest rights act, which proposes settling rights of forest-dwelling communities before relocating them. "There are efforts to relocate villagers from tiger reserves by declaring them critical tiger habitats," said Shankar Gopalkrishnan, secretary of Campaign for Survival and Dignity, which works on rights to forestland. Officials of the tiger conservation authority ruled out any overlap between the forest rights act and the wildlife protection act because, the latter too, they said, has provision for settling communities' rights before making tiger reserves inviolate.

"Identifying critical tiger habitat was mandated in an amendment to the wildlife protection act in 2006. Using this, the tiger conservation body identified and notified critical tiger habitats for 28 existing tiger reserves on December 31, 2007, a day before forest rights act was notified. It also started the process of identifying critical tiger habitats for eight new tiger reserves under the wildlife protection act guidelines," said Rajesh Gopal, member secretary of the tiger conservation body. He added that critical tiger habitats identified after January 1, 2008, would follow provisions of both the laws.

Conservationists said the Centre's 100 per cent funding for infrastructure drove states to declare areas tiger reserves. The other setback is identifying flagship species. "Lack of data on range and habitat use of a species concerned are the grey areas. With tigers, it is easier because there are several studies on it," said B C Choudhury of Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun.

Since states are unable to identify critical wildlife habitats, they are going slow on implementation of forest rights act. "It is not the forest department's responsibility; the tribal department must do it. We are identifying critical wildlife habitats for Gujarat," said Pradeep Khanna, principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), Gujarat.

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