Worried over the dwindling big cat population, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has written to Chief Ministers of States with tiger ranges to declare buffer areas around the animal’s habitat and expedite relocation of villages in national parks.

The Prime Minister’s letter has come after conservationists at a recently-held meeting of the National Board of Wildlife, chaired by him, complained of the States’ laxity in reducing human-tiger conflicts that often lead to the death of big cats, a senior Environment Ministry official said.

Dr. Singh, in his letter, has asked Uttarakhand Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank to regulate growing tourism around Corbett Tiger Reserve while telling the Maharashtra government to quickly expedite the process of notifying the buffer areas around all its tiger sanctuaries.

Madhya Pradesh, which has been enjoying the special status of a tiger State, ironically has been found wanting in this direction with none of its five reserves having declared buffer areas, officials said.

The Prime Minister has also asked the States to expedite relocation of villagers including Gujjars from the reserves as also create a Special Task Protection Force (STPF) to arrest poaching and ensure the animal’s safety.

Except eight States, none of the others have failed to declare buffer areas around their national parks as per the law to prevent man-animal conflict which is taking a toll on the big cats.

“Chhattisgarh, Assam, West Bengal, Orissa, some reserves in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are some of the States that have declared buffer areas but many are yet to do so.

“But major tiger-bearing States such as Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh have failed to do so,” Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had said recently.

According to the National Tiger Conservation Authority, 15 tigers have died since January this year. Last year, 66 big cats lost their lives and experts feel if timely preventive measures are not taken, the tiger population in the country could soon dwindle.

Mr. Ramesh said the delay to declare buffer areas was deliberate on the parts of the States to allow establishment of projects.

He also said there could be a bigger conspiracy behind the deaths of tigers as land mafia or local politicians and businessmen want the tiger population to come down so the land can be used for mining or construction.