Status of Project Tiger

India, after independence in 1947, as aspiring for new developmental avenues to become a self-reliant welfare state. Towards this aim the country established major irrigation and hydro-electric projects, heavy industries, railway tracks criss-crossing the country and defence establishments. Because of these development activities, the demand for vast areas of land skyrocketted. In view of the increasing pressure on other categories of land owing to burgeoning human population, some forest land had to be diverted for such activities.

The ever increasing biotic pressure and demand for forest land triggered an irreversible process of degradation and fragmentation of wildlife habitat, putting the wildlife under acute stress so much so to cause an adverse predator prey-ratio, which coupled with the ongoing adventurous hunting and occasional poaching of tigers brought down the population of this symbol of Indian wilderness to an all time low of 1,800 in 1972. Alarmed at this trend, the Indian Government launched Project Tiger. Nine tiger reserves were established in 1973 with a total tiger population of 268. Subsequently, in later years, new Project Tiger areas were added so as to isolate the animals from ever increasing demand for land and growing biotic pressure. This resulted in a rise in the number of tigers over the decade and the 1989 census indicated a population of over 4,000 in the Indian sub-continent. The population in 18 tiger reserves was 1,327. The Project Tiger was, therefore, hailed as the most successful effort in tiger conservation in the world. However, the 1993 census showed the tiger population in India as 3,750 and 1,366 in 23 tiger reserves. The tiger population, according to the 1995 census in 22 tiger reserves was 1,333. In Valmiki Tiger Reserve (Bihar) the census could not be carried out in 1995. The figures, therefore, indicate that while the overall tiger population has not fallen in tiger reserves, the population has indeed declined outside reserve areas between 1989-93. The next four yearly All India Tiger Population Estimation is being carried out in the current year.

The second tiger crisis of the 1990s (the first occurred in the early 1970s) is a result of the increasing fragmentation of habitat, declining prey base, lack of suitable management inputs and poaching activity outside the Project Tiger areas.

While the government does not deny that incidents of poaching have occurred in India and the tiger is facing a renewed threat due to increased international trafficking of tiger parts, specially tiger bones, the figure of one to two tigers being poached a day, as has been alleged and propagated by some national and international voluntary agencies, is a total distortion of ground truth and has not been substantiated by any hard evidence. An imaginary factor has been used for multiplying the number of detected offence cases so as to conveniently project a biased figure of 500 tigers being poached a year. But these agencies seem to have intentionally ignored the fact that higher detection of offences in recent times is an outcome of governmental efforts in implementing enforcement measures most effectively by coordinating and sensitising all the enforcement agencies and should not be linked with increased level of poaching.

India has taken several steps in recent times to protect the tiger and other wildlife species :

The Government of India, with all its political will, is endeavouring to reinforce tiger conservation programmes in the country. The Ministry of Environment & Forests, has been convening regular meetings of the Steering Committee of Project Tiger and the Tiger Crisis Cell to introduce additional measures for the protection of the tiger and its habitat. The Union Home Minister has also issued a letter to all the Chief Ministers to take appropriate steps for conserving wildlife. Further, acknowledging the written request of the Ministry for according high priority to tiger conservation programmes in the wake of the renewed tiger crisis, the Prime Minister during the Indian Board of Wildlife meeting held in March, 1997 has assured full government support and also proposed to convene a meeting of chief ministers in the near future to discuss wildlife issues.

However, in order to resolve the present tiger crisis the following issues need special attention :-

  1. Since more than half of the tiger population of the country is found outside the tiger reserves, there is an urgent need to introduce a special programme for protection : One of the measures to counter the threat is to include more new areas into the fold of Project Tiger.
  2. To curb poaching in tiger reserves, it is necessary to create a "Strike Force" in every reserve.
  3. At least five tiger reserves, i.e. Palamau and Valmiki in Bihar, Manas (Assam), Indravati (M.P.) and Nagarjunsagar (Andhra Pradesh) are facing serious problems due to the insurgents/criminals seeking refuge in them. To bring about normalcy, deployment of central armed forces is urgently needed.
  4. In view of the large scale illegal trade of tiger parts in big cities, new strategies, based on identification of bottlenecks, need to be introduced. This would inevitably involve an in situ conservation mechanism, strengthening of Central Wildlife Enforcement Agencies and greater financial assistance to the states.
  5. In order to address all these issues, a substantial increase in the Project Tiger budget would be essential during the Ninth Plan period. A proposal to this effect has already been sent by the Ministry to the Planning Commission for allocating Rs.90 crores under the Project Tiger Scheme for the current Plan.