The much-awaited tiger safari project of Uttarakhand government is under scanner after a Forest Survey Of India (FSI) report stated that over 6000 trees were illegally cut in the Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR) against the permission of 163 for the Pakhru tiger safari. The State forest department refuted the FSI’s claims and said that there were some technical issues which needed to be resolved before finally accepting the report.
The FSI was asked by the Uttarakhand Forest Department to access the status of illegal felling in and around Pakhru Tiger Safari. They were asked to estimate the number of trees felled in the illegally cleared area based on expertise and technology available with the organisation. The Forest Survey Institute was also tasked to scan the area in and around the Pakhru tiger safari for illegal felling and to analyse any area within Kalagarh tiger reserve which was seen to be exhibiting forest cover change.
“After compiling the report in around 9 months in Pakhru block, Kalushaheed block Nalkhatta Block and Kalagarh block, the FSI has come-up with an observation that the area cleared under CTR is estimated as 16.21 hectare (hac). The trees estimated on the cleared area are 6093 in number with the lower bound of 5765 and the upper bound of 6421 with 95% confidence interval and 2.72% standard error,” said a senior official from the forest department in Uttarakhand who did not wish to be named.
Talking to The Hindu, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest & Head of the Forest Force, Mr. Vinod Singhal accepted that the FSI found that 6421 trees were illegally cut. He also maintained that the forest department had some issues with the FSI report and hence it had not been accepted so far.
“After a preliminary examination of this report, there are several technical issues which needs to be resolved before this report to be accepted. There are several serious and important questions on the tabulation of the number of trees allegedly felled and the sampling technique used to arrive at this number on which the FSI has been requested to provide further information,” added Mr. Singhal.
He further confirmed that the forest department had the permission to cut 163 trees in the safari area, and in the primary investigation, it was found that 97 extra trees were illegally cut in the area.
The matter of thousands of trees being felled illegally was highlighted by Gaurav Bansal, an environment-activist and lawyer based in Delhi. Mr. Bansal has made a complaint to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in which he alleged that 10,000 trees were cut in the protected area.
After the NTCA and Central Zoo Authority (CZA) sought the actual status of trees cut from the Uttarakhand forest department, they asked the FSI to conduct a survey.
Former Forest Minister of Uttarakhand Harak Singh Rawat had laid the foundation stone of the Pakhro tiger safari, which would be operated in the Pakhro zone of Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR) in Lansdowne area of Pauri Garhwal. Spread over an area of 106 hectares, when completed, it would have been the State’s first tiger safari that would have tigers in enclosures to ensure “100% sighting”.
Speaking to the media, Harak Singh maintained that during his visit to CTR in 2019, for the shooting of the TV programme ‘Man vs. Wild’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken about developing a safari in the area to enable people to have confirmed tiger sightings.
Sprawling over 500 square kilometres, CTR is home to 230 tigers and has the world’s highest tiger density — at 14 tigers per hundred square kilometres.
Anoop Singh, Director General FSI, could not be contacted even after repeated attempts. Prakash Lakhchaura, Deputy DG FSI said that he could not comment on the reservations of the forest department on the FSI report as he was not aware of the matter.
A senior Forest department official said that it looks FSI was chasing the number 10,000 stated by the complaint.
“There are several serious and important questions on the tabulation of the number of trees allegedly felled and the sampling technique used to arrive at this number on which the FSI has been requested to provide further information on which the FSI has been requested to provide further information”Vinod SinghalPrincipal Chief Conservator of Forest & Head of the Forest Force