Three years after the entire tiger population of the Panna Tiger Reserve was decimated, the Madhya Pradesh government has neither been able to fix responsibility for the disaster, nor has it handed over the enquiry to the Central Bureau of Investigation inspite of requests from the Ministry of Environment and forests and even the Prime Minister's Office.
A new string of official communication, copies of which are available with The Hindu, suggests that a CBI investigation into the Panna debacle is being held up due to non-communication from the ground i.e. office of the Field Director, Panna Tiger Reserve.
Last year, the Prime Minister's Office forwarded a complaint regarding CBI enquiry into the Panna debacle to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). On 20th July 2011, the NTCA wrote to the Madhya Pradesh government asking for an update on the matter.
The state government sent the NTCA request to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) who in turn asked the Field Director, Panna Tiger Reserve to send the details of available evidence required for the CBI probe.
Since then, the PCCF (Wildlife) office has sent repeated reminders in May, August, September and December 2011―to the Field Director, PTR, asking him to make available the evidence for three poaching cases that the state government had identified for CBI enquiry in 2010. But there has been no response from the Field Director.
In March 2010, in response to a letter from NTCA member secretary Rajesh Gopal advising for a CBI enquiry into the Panna debacle, the state government had identified three poaching cases and had admitted the need for a CBI probe.
The latest reminder to the FD was sent in December 2011, which unequivocally stated: “Regarding CBI probe in the disappearance of Panna tigers...in spite of repeated reminders, you have not provided us with the details and evidences relating to three cases identified by the government.. we are receiving constant reminders from the government from the government...please send the details as soon as possible” (translated from Hindi).
Interestingly, the Field Director (FD) R.S. Murthy had only recently exposed the official-poacher nexus in the PTR in a confidential report last year, which was accessed by wildlife activist Ajay Dube under the Right to Information Act (http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article2487974.ece).
In the report, Mr. Murthy had indicted the forest staff for acting in collusion with local hunting communities such as the Pardhis and the Bahelias as well as with national and international poaching mafia by suppressing cases or not registering one at all.
“We believe that the FD is under pressure from some senior officials responsible for the loss of tiger population in Panna. This is the same officer who had exposed the official-poacher nexus through his report, why is he silent now inspite of repeated reminders,” asked Mr. Ajay dube, who obtained the entire chain of correspondence under the Right to Information Act.
Not only has the state government not been able to fix responsibility in the case, it has failed to demarcate a buffer zone for the Panna Tiger Reserve, a requirement under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, amended in 2006. In such a situation, the future of the national animal appears bleak at the Panna Tiger Reserve, which is constantly under attack from poaching and illegal mining.