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The Tiger is a symbol of wilderness and well being of the ecosystem. By conserving and saving tigers the entire ecosystem is conserved as the tiger is the apex predator that keeps the food chain in balance by preventing the forests from being grazed to decimation by herbivores which would multiply unsustainably in its absence. At the same time, the tiger cannot survive without a minimum level of herbivores to prey on and un-fragmented forest cover. Saving tiger, therefore, is analogous to saving the ecosystem, which is crucial for man’s own survival.
India is home for over 50% of the world’s wild tiger population and the numbers have dramatically risen from less than 2000 in the 1970s when tiger’s were critically endangered. However, with even 2000 tigers in the Indian jungles today, one cannot say that tigers are not threatened by extinction. Tigers are facing an increasing threat from poaching due to their high value in the Asian markets. The poverty of the people who live in and around tiger habitats and the high price paid for tiger parts continue to pose an increasing threat to the tiger. Today, with instances like Sariska; where the entire tiger population has been wiped out due to poaching; and with major development construction work being undertaken in some National Parks and with the case of the Sahara group acquiring land in the extremely sensitive ecosystem of the Sunderban National Park, we cannot complacently believe that the tiger is safe.
India holds over half the world’s tiger population. According to the latest tiger census report released on February 12, 2008 by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the current tiger population stands at 1,411 (i.e. ranging between a minimum of 1,165 to a maximum of 1,657). The results include figures from 16 tiger states and are exclusive of Jharkhand and Sunderbans. The state of West Bengal was covered only partially (i.e. North Bengal) during the census.
The Tiger Census 2008 report has classified the tiger occupied forests in India into 6 landscape complexes; namely (a) Shivalik-Gangetic Plains, (b) Central Indian Landscape Complex (c) Eastern Ghats, (d) Western Ghats, (e) North-Eastern Hills and Bhramaputra Plains, and (f) Sunderbans.
Within the Shivalik-Gangetic plain landscape, it is reported that the tiger occupies 5080 sq.km of forested habitats with an estimated population size of 297 (259 to 335) in six separate populations. In the Central Indian Landscape, tiger presence is currently reported from 47,122 sq.km (11.6 % of forests) with an estimated tiger population of 451 (347 to 564) distributed in 17 populations. The Eastern Ghat landscape complex currently has about 15,000 sq.km of potential tiger habitat. Tigers occupy 7,772 sq.km of forested habitats with an estimated population size of 53 (49 to 57). Currently tigers occupy 21,435 sq.km of forests within the Western Ghat Landscape comprising 21% of the forested area. The current potential tiger habitat in the landscape complex is about 51,000 sq.km. The population estimate for this landscape was 366 (297-434) tigers. North-Eastern hills and Bhramaputra plains currently reported tiger occupancy in 4230 sq.km of forests. Many of the tiger populations, particularly those outside protected reserves, are fragmented, suffer from intense poaching pressure, a dwindling prey base and over-used habitat.
The strategy for tiger conservation in India revolves around the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Between the mid 1970’s and mid-1980’s, many protected areas (66 national parks and 421 wildlife sanctuaries) were set aside, including large tracts of tiger habitat. They were later increased to 96 national parks, 510 wildlife sanctuaries and 3 conservation reserves and 2 community reserves. This resulted in an increase in tiger densities at many locations. Tragically, these conservation successes were short lived. Rampant poaching for the trade in tiger parts – all destined for markets outside India’s borders – now threatens the tiger’s very existence.
Prevailing conservation efforts are not geared towards, nor have they adequately addressed, the new threats with new protection strategies ie. better law enforcement, training and support. Excellent new tiger protection measures (such as the recommendations of the (Subramanian Committee for the Prevention of Illegal Trade in Wildlife, 1994 and Tiger Task Force, 2005) have been proposed but not implemented and little effective action has been taken in the field. Few of the tiger reserves have an established intelligence network and nearly 80% of our tiger reserves do not have an armed strike force or basic infrastructure and equipment to combat poaching. The forest guards are often out-gunned and out-manned by poachers. In December 1998, three forest staff were murdered in Manas Tiger Reserve and several cases of murder and serious assault on forest guards have been reported since.
The last meeting of the National Board of Wildlife was held on 01 November 2007. Large development projects, such as mining and hydroelectric dams, are also taking their toll on the tiger’s habitat. In the past ten years, thousands of square kilometres of forest land have been diverted and destroyed to facilitate such projects. Though mostly outside the protected network, the loss of this vital habitat will have serious repercussions on tiger conservation in India.
Since 1994, WPSI has made a concerted effort to gather accurate information on tiger poaching occurring throughout India. A total of 832 tigers are known to have been killed from 1994 to 2007. WPSIs extensive database of tigers poached has detailed information on poaching figures. These figures, however, are reported cases and represent only a fraction of the actual poaching activity in India.
Recent undercover investigations by the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) revealed that the trade in tiger and leopard body parts in China continues to thrive, operating without any hindrance from the Chinese government whilst driving India’s wild tigers closer towards extinction.
Despite all these problems, India still holds the best chance for saving the tiger in the wild. Tigers occur in 17 States within the Republic of India, with 5 States reportedly having populations in excess of 100 tigers. There are still areas with relatively large tiger populations and extensive tracts of protected habitat. Adequate funding and international pressure will help. But probably the most effective way to implement tiger conservation action in India today is to enhance NGO participation. There are a number of dedicated organisations that are effectively involved in hands-on tiger conservation. They keep the issue energized on a national level and tenaciously try to increase political will to secure the tiger’s future. The Indian conservation and scientific community is now a proven force. It needs to be strengthened.
Some startling statistics can be seen on the website of “Wildlife Protection Society of India”. www.wpsi-india.org/tiger/tiger_status.php
Milestone initiatives (including the recent) taken by the Government of India for protection of tigers and other wild animals
1. Amendment of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 for providing enabling provisions for constitution of the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Tiger and Other Endangered Species Crime Control Bureau.
2. Enhancement of punishment in cases of offence relating to a tiger reserve or its core area.
1. Strengthening of antipoaching activities, including special strategy for monsoon patrolling, by providing funding support to Tiger Reserve States, as proposed by them, for deployment of antipoaching squads involving ex-army personnel / home guards, apart from workforce comprising of local people, in addition to strengthening of communication / wireless facilities.
2. Constitution of the National Tiger Conservation Authority with effect from 4.09.2006, for strengthening tiger conservation by, interalia, ensuring normative standards in tiger reserve management, preparation of reserve specific tiger conservation plan, laying down annual audit report before Parliament, constituting State level Steering Committees under the Chairmanship of Chief Ministers and establishment of Tiger Conservation Foundation.
3. Constitution of a multidisciplinary Tiger and Other Endangered Species Crime Control Bureau (Wildlife Crime Control Bureau) with effect from 6.6.2007 to effectively control illegal trade in wildlife.
4. Declaration of eight new Tiger Reserves and in-principle approval accorded for creation of four new Reserves, namely Sahyadri in Maharashtra, Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh, Ratapani in M.P. and Sunabeda in Orissa.
5. The revised Project Tiger guidelines have been issued to States for strengthening tiger conservation, which apart from ongoing activities, interalia, include funding support to States for enhanced village relocation/rehabilitation package for people living in core or critical tiger habitats (from Rs. 1 lakh/family to Rs. 10 lakhs/family), rehabilitation/resettlement of communities involved in traditional hunting, mainstreaming livelihood and wildlife concerns in forests outside tiger reserves and fostering corridor conservation through restorative strategy to arrest habitat fragmentation.
6. A scientific methodology for estimating tiger (including co-predators, prey animals and assessment of habitat status) has been evolved and mainstreamed. The findings of this estimation/assessment are bench marks for future tiger conservation strategy.
7. An area of 29284.76 sq. km. has been notified by 15 Tiger States (out of 17) as core or critical tiger habitat under section 38V of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, as amended in 2006 (Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, and West Bengal). Two tiger States (Bihar and Uttar Pradesh) have taken a decision for notifying the core or critical tiger habitats (2765.04 sq.km.). The State of Madhya Pradesh has not identified / notified the core / critical tiger habitat in its newly constituted tiger reserve (Sanjay National Park and Sanjay Dubri Wildlife Sanctuary).
1. Financial and technical help is provided to the States under various Centrally Sponsored Schemes, viz. Project Tiger and Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats for enhancing the capacity and infrastructure of the States for providing effective protection to wild animals.
1. India has a Memorandum of Understanding with Nepal on controlling trans-boundary illegal trade in wildlife and conservation, apart from a protocol on tiger conservation with China.
2. A Global Tiger Forum of Tiger Range Countries has been created for addressing international issues related to tiger conservation.
3. During the 14th meeting of the Conference of Parties to CITES, which was held from 3rd to 15th June, 2007 at The Hague, India introduced a resolution along with China, Nepal and the Russian Federation, with directions to Parties with operations breeding tigers on a commercial scale, for restricting such captive populations to a level supportive only to conserving wild tigers. The resolution was adopted as a decision with minor amendments. Further, India made an intervention appealing to China to phase out tiger farming, and eliminate stockpiles of Asian big cats body parts and derivatives. The importance of continuing the ban on trade of body parts of tigers was emphasized.
4. Based on India’s strong intervention during the 58th meeting of the Standing Committee of the CITES at Geneva from 6th to 10th July, 2009, the CITES Secretariat has issued a notification to Parties to submit reports relating to compliance of Decisions 14.69 and 14.65 within 90 days with effect from 20.10.2009 (Progress made on restricting captive breeding operations of tigers etc.).
Reintroduction of Tigers
1. As a part of active management to rebuild Sariska and Panna Tiger Reserves where tigers have become locally extinct, reintroduction of tigers / tigresses have been done.
2. Special advisories issued for in-situ build up of prey base and tiger population through active management in tiger reserves having low population status of tiger and its prey.
Creation of Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF)
1. The policy initiatives announced by the Finance Minister in his Budget Speech of 29.2.2008, interalia, contains action points relating to tiger protection. Based on the one time grant of Rs. 50.00 crore provided to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) for raising, arming and deploying a Special Tiger Protection Force, the proposal for the said force has been approved by the competent authority for 13 tiger reserves. Rs. 93 lakhs each has been released to Corbett, Ranthambhore & Dudhwa Tiger Reserve for creation of STPF during 2008-09. Central Assistance will be provided to States for creation of STPF in remaining 10 Tiger Reserves in 2009-10. Since then, the guidelines of the STPF have been revised for deploying forest personnel in place of Police, with scope for involving local people like the Van Gujjars.
2. In collaboration with TRAFFIC-INDIA, action has been taken for an online wildlife crime data base, and Generic Guidelines for preparation of reserve specific Security Plan has been evolved.
1. Implementing a tripartite MOU with tiger States, linked to fund flows for effective implementation of tiger conservation initiatives.
2. Revised the Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) guidelines to involve local people like Van Gujjars and others in field protection.
3. Rapid assessment of tiger reserves done (12 good, 9 satisfactory and 16 poor).
4. Special crack teams sent to tiger reserves affected by left wing extremism and low population status of tiger and its prey.
5. All India meeting of Field Directors convened on 25 and 26 July, 2009 under the Chairmanship of the Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Environment and Forests for reviewing the status of field protection and related issues in tiger reserves.
6. Chief Ministers of tiger States addressed at the level of the Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Environment and Forests on urgent issues, viz. implementation of the tripartite MOU, creation of the Tiger Conservation Foundation, stepping up protection etc.
7. Chief Ministers of States having tiger reserves affected by left wing extremism and low population status of tiger and its prey addressed for taking special initiatives.
8. Field visits to Bhadra, Corbett, Sariska and Ranthambhore made by the Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Environment and Forests to review the initiatives and problems relating to tiger conservation.
9. Steps taken for modernizing the infrastructure and field protection.
10. Advisory issued for involvement of Non-Governmental Experts in the forthcoming all India tiger estimation.
11. Core Committee involving outside experts constituted for overseeing the forthcoming all India tiger estimation.
12. Report of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) constituted for looking into the local extinction of tiger in the Panna Tiger Reserve sent to the State (Madhya Pradesh) for the needful action.
13. Issue of tiger farming and trafficking of tiger body parts discussed at the level of Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Environment and Forests with the Chinese Authorities.
14. Action taken for amending the Wildlife (Protection) Act to ensure effective conservation.
15. Initiatives taken for improving the field delivery through capacity building of field officials, apart from providing incentives.
16. Decision taken to host the World Tiger Summit in October-November, 2010.
WILDLIFE PROTECTION ACT
Passage of the Wildlife Protection Act in 1972 made India “the world leader in tiger conservation” by instituting a prohibition on the hunting of wild animals listed in Schedule I of the Act, including tigers. The Act does include some exceptions in Sections 11 and 12, allowing the killing of wild animals that have become diseased or disabled beyond recovery and those that are dangerous to human life, as well as allowing for a culling of animals for scientific research or management. However, generally, the killing of tigers is prohibited in India.
The enforcement of the Act is not specifically provided for within its provisions, but has historically been conducted by local police forces based near the tiger preserves whose work has tended to be primarily reactive and limited in scope. Criminal prosecution of the few poachers who have been occasionally captured tends to be minimal and the fines and penalties levied have failed to deter the actions of the poachers to any significant degree. There are efforts underway in India to increase the resources allocated to proactive protection of tigers by establishing national enforcement units, trained by Interpol and the CITES Secretariat, and those modernization efforts will be discussed, infra, in Part III.
In 1973, the Government of India sponsored the creation of Project Tiger, initially setting aside nine tiger reserves based on the habitat requirements of the tigers and on generally important ecological values of certain wilderness areas. The strategy for establishing these reserves is commonly referred to as a “core-buffer” strategy, which involves “[e]limination of all forms of human exploitation and disturbance from the core and rationalization of such activities in the buffer.” Unfortunately, this strategy has proven to be, at least to a certain extent, both divisive and misleading; it is divisive in its implementation in rural areas because of what it has taken away from villagers who depended upon the forests for food and other resources, and it is misleading in that some large-scale mining and other development has taken place within buffer zones (even within the heart of the Jamwa Ramgarh wildlife sanctuary) while the local villagers were kept out. (These problems are discussed further in Section II.) While there are some encouraging signs that the Indian Government is taking steps to ameliorate many of the failings of its strategy, it goes without saying that the bottom line for the tiger is that these problems with the enforcement of the Indian conservation programs simply must be sorted out in order to prevent extinction.
The Act prescribes various offences and penalties. These are discussed below:
a. Any violation of the provisions of the Act, its rules or orders made thereunder attracts a punishment of three years or a fine up to Rs 25,000 or both [Section 51(1)]. A second or subsequent offence of the same nature attracts an imprisonment term of at least three years extending to seven years and a minimum fine of Rs 25,000 [second proviso to Section 51(1)].
b. Where offences are committed in relation to animals mentioned in Schedule I, or Part II of Schedule II, or where the offence relates to hunting in a sanctuary or national park or changing their boundaries, the punishment will be at least three years imprisonment extending to seven years and a fine of Rs 25,000 [first proviso
to Section 51(1)].
c. Violation of provisions prohibiting trade or commerce in trophies, animal articles and the like, derived from certain animals, would attract a punishment of at least three years of imprisonment extending to seven years and a fine of Rs 10,000 [Section 51(1A)].
d. Any person who teases, molests, injures, feeds animals in zoos or causes disturbance to animals or litters the zoo will be punishable by imprisonment for a term of six months or a fine which may extend to Rs 2,000 or with both [Section 51(1B)].
e. Persons convicted under the provisions of the Act also stand to lose their license or permit [Section 51(2) and 51(3)] while also having their license under the Arms Act, 1959 cancelled/ reinforced by an order that no re-issue of arms license be made till up to five years from the date of conviction [Section 51(4)]. They will also have no claim to the vehicle used while the offence was being committed [Section 51(2)]. It also becomes difficult for persons convicted to receive bail under Section 51A.
f. Persons who, without reasonable cause, fail to produce the things they are required to produce under the Act, will be guilty of the offence [Section 50 (8)].
g. It is also important to point out that prosecution under any other law is not barred for any act which constitutes an offence under this Act, or from being punished for a higher punishment or penalty than that provided by this Act [Section 56].
B. Special provisions relating to the investigation procedure
1. The Act prescribes distinct and special procedures for investigation which are (a)
different from those for the investigation of an offence under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and (b) ostensibly designed to empower forest officials to initiate and participate in the investigation process so that any immediate violation of the Act can be remedied. To the extent to which forest officials have been brought into the investigative process to deal with an immediate transgression of the regime of the Act, these provisions are salutary. But after an initial investigation is enabled in this way, the procedure limps forward, only to get ensnared as a relatively minor case through the criminal process.
What needs to be done?
The cases need to be treated as serious criminal cases. The first step must be to differentiate between serious and non-serious cases and ensure that serious cases are tried as police cases by the Sessions Courts. This has an impact on the manner in which the cases are prosecuted. Since they are complaint cases, the police do not prosecute them. It is left to the overworked forest officials to come to court and build the case before it can be taken further. The cases linger on because they are prescribed as ‘lesser’ cases and are not treated as priority. The prosecutors, mainly forest officials, are inept and lose interest. The second step therefore must be to have special prosecutors. Since these cases randomly languish in courts throughout the country, they are not monitored by a Centralised Monitoring Task Force either at the state or the Union level. So, the third step must be to create a Centralised Monitoring Task Force for all cases – especially the serious ones.
C. Special provisions
The Act prescribes certain special provisions relating to cognisance of the offence, compoundability of the offence and presumptions at the stage of trial which
are outlined below:
1. Section 54 allows the Government to compound any notified offence whereby a person, who has committed such an offence, would be discharged on paying a certain sum of money [Section 54(2)]. Such compounding is done only to the extent of a penalty of Rs 25,000.
All such compounding terminates all pending proceedings in relation to that offence, and no further proceeding is taken in respect of that offence. The penalty is determined by the forest officer in accordance with Section 54 (1).
2. Every person’s complaint of the violation of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 does not result in a trial. The process of cognisance – the manner in which judicial notice is taken of the offence – is limited to complaints according to the provisions of Section 55, which lists authorities like the Director, Wild Life Preservation, Member-
Secretary, Central Zoo Authority as being competent to make the complaint. Section 55 (c) also allows any general member of the public to make a complaint, after giving notice of 60 days to the government that he intends to do so. If the government does not proceed on the prosecution, then such a person could complain to the Court, which would then take cognisance of the offence.
3. Other special provisions relate to presumptions in Section 57, which reverses the onus of proof on to the person who has been caught with an animal part and presumes unlawful possession of the same unless the contrary is proved.
4. A special provision relating to offences by companies in Section 58 pins liability on the person from the company who has connived in the commission of the offence.
5. Any person involved in the abetment or attempt to violate the provisions of the Act is deemed to have violated that provision and punishment accordingly follows [Section 52].
The CITES convention operates by banning the trade in certain endangered species without prior approval from the exporting and importing countries. The convention’s prohibition on trade and its corresponding permit system requirements operate based on CITES Appendices I, II, and III. These appendices operate on a graduated scale, with the most protection being granted to animals and plants listed onAppendix I. Permits are required from both the exporting country and the importing country, and neither may grant a permit “if the transport of the particular species will be detrimental to its survival.” Species are listed under Appendix II due to concerns that they may become endangered if trade continues without restrictions, and therefore the exporting country must issue a permit, ostensibly granting permits only when it has determined that exporting a particular specimen will not be detrimental to the species’ survival. This export permit must be displayed to officials of the importing country, but an import permit is not required. Finally, under Appendix III, species are listed in order to prevent exploitation, and “[t]rade of category three species requires export permits as well as certificates of origin at the country of import.”
India became a signatory to CITES in 1976, and was relatively successful in stemming the tide of the loss of tigers being poached for their skins until the late 1980’s. All tigers were listed on Appendix I by agreement of the Parties in 1975, except for the Siberian Tiger, which was subsequently included in 1987. While India was an early signatory, as were Pakistan and Nepal, which both signed within a year of the treaty taking effect, other countries such as Japan and China, where the demand for tiger products are the highest, waited until the early 1980’s to sign, and still other Asian countries, such as Korea and Vietnam, waited into the 1990’s. In addition, domestic regulations in China and Japan that provide for the protection of tigers and officially ban the sale of tiger bones and derivatives have taken even longer to come into being; legislation banning the trade in endangered species was not put into force until 1993 and 1995, respectively. The enforcement of these provisions in China and Japan is suspect, as one might predict due to the intense demand for such products in those countries. In fact, the passage of Resolution 9.13 at the CITES 1997 Conference of the Parties (CoP), “urging all Parties to consider introducing measures to facilitate implementation of CITES, such as voluntarily prohibiting domestic trade in Tiger parts and derivatives,” seems to recognize that even these relatively recent provisions (enacted less than 5 years before) had failed to go far enough in preventing the trade in such goods to continue.
One of the keys to long-term international efforts at preventing the extinction of tigers throughout the world will be to reduce the demand for tiger skins, bones, and other derivatives, especially in Asian countries like China and Japan. The high-prices such items fetch in the Asian markets continue to help fuel the extensive criminal poaching and trafficking networks, and shutting down the funding of these syndicates should be another primary goal of the international community. Because Interpol considers the illegal trade in wildlife “to be the second largest illegal trade in the world, valued in excess of US $6 billion annually,”no government can be expected to shut it down on their own. However, it will be incumbent upon the international community to not only support India’s efforts to protect their tigers, but to also convince many Asian countries of the value of these animals, and make them aware that their behavior is driving its nosedive to extinction
RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSION
All Tiger Reserves should have a well-formulated management plan encompassing long and medium term targets. The annual plans of operations should be based on the management plans to ensure appropriate allocation of resources. While enabling a planned approach to tiger conservation, the annual plan of operations should also provide a measure for achievement of targets against efforts made. Efforts may be made to complete the detailed mapping of Tiger Reserves early so that the management plans are based on reliable information. The boundaries of the existing reserves should be notified
The system of allocation of financial resources to Tiger Reserves needs to be streamlined. The Project Tiger Directorate should establish formal criteria for allocation of funds and prioritize the Tiger Reserves based on their risk perception. The issues relating to late release of central funds, diversion of funds and short release of counterpart funds by the States need to be addressed at appropriate levels to ensure that tiger conservation efforts become fruitful.
The Government should make a firm commitment to relocate the local families/villages from the core and buffer areas of the Tiger Reserves and draw a comprehensive resettlement plan for the purpose, adequately supported by a credible financial package. Stringent steps need to be taken to evict the encroachers.
The Government should frame a comprehensive tourism management policy for the Tiger Reserves clearly spelling out the roles of the Project Tiger Directorate and the State authorities. Tourism should be regulated such that human impact on conservation efforts of ecologically sensitive areas is minimised.
The Government should lay down a clear-cut agenda for coexistence by addressing the needs of the people sharing habitat with tigers and at the same time ensuring that eco-sensitive areas are protected from human disturbances, without diluting the conservation efforts.
Efforts should be made to improve communication and intelligence network, to create a strike force and to provide adequate arms and ammunition to the project personnel.
The success of the Prime Minister’s drive to establish a National Wildlife Crime Bureau (NWCB) initiative is crucial in order to provide a centralized hub for information, training resources, and technological and scientific support.
For effective patrolling of the reserves, number of camps/ chowkis and forest guards and foresters in the camps should be augmented. The staff deployed should be physically fit, capable of carrying out patrolling duties and adequately trained.
Efforts should be made to augment the manpower capacity at the Project Tiger Directorate to equip it as an effective oversight agency.
Monitoring mechanisms at the Centre and the State levels need to be strengthened. An effecti
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