Having resolved to constitute a Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) more than seven years ago, Madhya Pradesh is yet to constitute the battalion, even as the State has registered the most number of tiger deaths due to poaching since 2012.
According to an agreement, the State Forest Department was supposed to raise, arm and deploy the force in the reserves within two years of the agreement.
However, in the absence of an independent elite unit to protect tigers in the State, 30 deaths due to poaching have been reported between 2012 and 2018. The causes of 16 of the total 141 deaths, including natural and unnatural ones, reported in the State during the period are being investigated, according to the NTCA. This year, one case of death due to poaching has been reported of the 14 deaths in the State. Out of the 14 deaths reported in the State this year, one case was due to poaching.
Asserting that the State hasn't failed in protecting its tigers, U. Prakasham, State Chief Wildlife Warden, said, “We have constituted a special armed unit called Tiger Strike Force that other States don’t possess. It operates in Hoshangabad, Sagar, Satna, Indore and Bhopal divisions and has been able to bring down restrict poaching.”
Famous as the ‘Tiger State’ at least until 2006 when it boasted the most number of tigers with an estimated 300 in its six reserves, Madhya Pradesh lost out to Karnataka in 2010 and fell behind Uttarakhand too in 2014, according to the Status of Tigers in India report.
“Unlike these States which have contiguous forests, Madhya Pradesh has a patchy cover running through fragmented reserves and human habitations, and therefore it’s a challenge to protect tigers and prevent man-animal conflicts here,” says U. Prakasham, State Chief Wildlife Warden.
He says more than 50% of the deaths in the State categorised as deaths due to poaching happen outside reserve limits. “Often, tigers get electrocuted upon contact with high tension wires laid by farmers to protect their fields from wild boars,” he says.
“Usually, poor tribals living along the fringes of the reserves are made scapegoats for an incident of poaching,” claims wildlife activist Ajay Dubey. “The main obstruction to tiger corridors and natural habitats is caused by big landlords whose encroachments in the form of resorts and farmhouses have been altering the lives of tigers and tribals alike.”
The conflict management of the forest department is in shambles as its strike force has failed to sensitise villagers on tiger conflict, identify sensitive corridors and kill and deter poachers, says Mr. Dubey. “It is a cosmetic entity without teeth that was constituted under an executive order and operates post facto. “Besides instilling fear among poachers, the STPF, once set up, will have a larger remit and help put an end to illegal mining and tree felling as well, that affect tiger habitats. After Maharashtra and Karnataka deployed the force in their reserves, tiger mortalities due to poaching there have come down significantly,” says Mr. Dubey.
Apart from the two States having the with STPFs, which are partially funded by the Centre, on July 1, Assam constituted a Special Rhino Protection Force on July 1 comprising 82 constables, trained over 43 weeks, to tackle rhino and tiger poaching in the Kaziranga National Park.
The 2012 tripartite agreement also states that a significant part of the force should consist of locals residing around reserves. Mr. Dubey says, “Youth from local tribes like Saharia and Baiga should be recruited in to the force as they have a better intelligence network and are fearless. Their dignified participation in wildlife conservation can deter them from joining the ranks of poachers.”
Stating that during a review meeting with the Forest Department 10 days ago he had directed it to expedite the formation of the STPF, State Minister for Forests Umang Singhar said, “We’ll emulate the Gujarat model of wildlife conservation wherein locals have been roped in and mortalities have been successfully brought down.”