Madhya Pradesh, once famous as the “tiger state”, lost 453 tigers over the last decade. And how many culprits did the state government manage to bring to book? Just two.
Recently accessed documents reveal only two cases of tiger poaching reached the logical conclusion of conviction. Sample the facts: according to the tiger conservation programme “Project Tiger”, the tiger population in Madhya Pradesh in 2001-02 stood at 710.
However, the 2011 tiger census revealed there were only 257 tigers left in the State's six tiger reserves — Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Panna, Bori-Satpura, Sanjay Dubri, and Pench.
This means the State lost 453 tigers between 2001 and 2011. Yet, the State forest department could manage only two convictions during this period, as of March 2012.
According to information accessed by wildlife activist Ajay Dube under the Right to Information act, two cases of tiger poaching were punished with three years rigorous imprisonment along with a fine of Rs. 10,000 each.
While one of the cases was from the Umaria forest division that covers the Bandhavgarh tiger reserve, the other was from the Sehora division covering the Kanha Tiger Reserve.
Besides the two convictions for tiger poaching, the forest department got three convictions for the poaching of four leopards in three separate cases.
The decadal decline in the big cat population in the state is alarming. At 453, it is almost half the number of tigers lost globally (1069) over the last decade (2000 to 2010), according to a recent report by TRAFFIC international, a wildlife trade monitoring network (http://www.traffic.org/species-reports/traffic_species_mammals60.pdf)
“The prosecution is so weak that poachers have no fear of the law and they know that they would eventually get away,” says wildlife activist Ajay Dube.
Last year's census figures resulted in Madhya Pradesh losing the “Tiger state” sobriquet to Karnataka, which recorded over 300 big cats.
Madhya Pradesh's tiger conservation efforts were exposed for the first time in 2009, when it was suddenly revealed that Panna, one of the State's premier tiger reserves, had lost its entire big cat population.
Later, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan faced fire from conservationists after he announced there would be no buffer zone for the Panna Tiger Reserve and that the proposed Ratapani Tiger Reserve would not be established as both developments would cause the displacement of a large number of people.
However, official sources have repeatedly confirmed to The Hindu that both developments were being delayed to protect the interests of the powerful mining lobby in the two regions.
Further doubts on the State's conservation efforts were cast by a confidential report of the Panna Tiger Reserve's field director, who claimed forest officials were acting in collusion with poachers, thus maintaining a consistent threat to the revival of tiger population in the reserve.
This story was corrected for factual errors