50 Years of Project Tiger

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What’s in Today’s Article?

  • Why in News?
  • Background of Project Tiger
  • What is Project Tiger?
  • Developments After the Launch of the Project Tiger
  • Success Story of the Project Tiger
  • Concerns Regarding India’s Tiger Protection and Conservation Plans

Why in News?

  • Launched in 1973, Project Tiger introduced India’s Tiger Reserves – which have since rapidly ascended in status.

Background of Project Tiger

  • In 1972, India enacted the Wildlife (Protection) Act (WLPA) and introduced new spatial fixtures within notified forests, called ‘National Parks’.
    • In the National Parks, the rights of forest-dwellers were removed and vested with the State government.
    • The WLPA also created ‘Wildlife Sanctuaries’, where only some permitted rights could be exercised.
  • The government created the ‘Critical Tiger Habitat’ (under the WLPA) in areas of National Parks and Sanctuaries which are required to be kept as inviolate for the purposes of wildlife conservation.

What is Project Tiger?

  • It is a tiger conservation programme (a Centrally Sponsored Scheme of the MoEF&CC) launched in 1973 by the Government of India and administered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
  • It aims at
    • Ensuring a viable population of the Bengal tiger (‘endangered’)in its natural habitats,
    • Protecting it from extinction,
    • Preserving areas of biological importance as a natural heritage that represent the diversity of ecosystems across the tiger's range in the country. 

Developments After the Launch of the Project Tiger

  • In 2005, the then PM appointed a 5-member ‘Tiger Task Force’ after a public outcry that India’s tigers existed only on paper and not in the forests of Sariska in Rajasthan.
    • In Sariska, the government had spent Rs 2 crore per tiger in 2002-2003 for their upkeep and safety, versus Rs 24 lakh per tiger elsewhere.
  • The Task Force found that the increasing conflict between the forest/wildlife bureaucracy and those who coexist with the tigers was a recipe for disaster.
  • So, the Parliament amended WLPA in 2006 to create the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and a tiger conservation plan.
    • From an administrative category arbitrarily constituted and administered by the forest bureaucracy, Tiger Reserves became a statutory category in 2006.
  • Later, the government also enacted the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006, which recognised all customary and traditional forest rights - individual as well as community - on all forest land, including in Tiger Reserves.
    • Under the Act, the habitation-level Gram Sabha was to democratically determine and demarcate the forest rights that FRA recognised and vested in them.
    • As a result, FRA secured the livelihoods of at least 20 crore Indians – about half of them tribals – in 1.79 lakh villages.
    • Importantly, FRA introduced a ‘Critical Wildlife Habitat’ (CWH), akin to the CTH, with one difference: once a CWH had been notified, it couldn’t be diverted for non-forestry purposes.

Success Story of the Project Tiger

  • Today, Tiger Reserves are hailed worldwide as India’s miraculous success story in environment and forest conservation, especially in this age of climate change.
  • From only 9 Reserves in 1973 encompassing 9,115 sq. km, there are today 54 in 18 States, occupying 78,135.9 sq. km/ 2.38% of India’s total land area.
  • CTHs covers 42,913.37 sq. km/ 26% of the area under National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
  • According to the Tiger Census 2022, there were 3,167-3,925 tigers in the country and their population is growing at 6.1% a year, prompting the government to claim India is now home to 3/4th of the world’s tigers.
  • The monitoring system M-STrIPES(Monitoring System for Tigers - Intensive Protection and Ecological Status) - is a software-based monitoring system developed(by NTCA in 2010) to assist patrol and protect tiger habitats.

Concerns Regarding India’s Tiger Protection and Conservation Plans

  • Exclusionary approach:
    • The Buffer Area outside the CTH is to promote human-animal coexistence while recognising the livelihood, developmental, social, and cultural rights of the local people.
    • However, the overall ‘fortress conservation’ approach to protecting tigers displaced people who had coexisted with tigers for generations.
  • Except for Similipal (Odisha), the CTHs had no Buffer Area:
    • India bears the long-term brunt of this error: tigers have been forced to inhabit and inherit a landscape leading to increase in man-wild conflict incidences.
    • With further increase in tigers and Tiger Reserves, and tiger corridors to link them up, India’s tiger terrain is set to become a hotspot not for biodiversity but anxiety and conflict.
  • Issue with relocation and rehabilitation:
    • WLPA prohibits all relocation except “voluntary relocation on mutually agreed terms and conditions” satisfying requirements in the law.
    • According to the FRA and the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act 2013, no relocation can happen without the consent of the affected communities.
    • LARR also requires the rehabilitation package to provide financial compensation as well as secure livelihoods to those relocated.
    • However, these provisions are not followed in letter and spirit.

Q1) What is the Environment Protection Act (EPA) 1986?

The EPA 1986 is an act to provide for the protection and improvement of the environment and for matters connected therewith. The Act is widely considered to have been a response to the Bhopal gas leak and was passed by the GoI under the Article 253 of the Indian Constitution.

Q2) What is the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)?

The NTCA was constituted in 2005 under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, following a recommendation of the Tiger Task Force. It was established to reorganise the management of Project Tiger and many Tiger Reserves in India.


Source: The government has trapped Project Tiger, now 50, in a tough spot | Explained