Fixing Corbett: Where To Begin

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Outraged by the TEHELKA exposé, many readers have slammed the plunder of Corbett’s legacy. But the tiger reserve still has every chance if we insist on a few answers

By Jay Mazoomdaar

Scaling new heights A few of many walled resorts between Corbett and the Kosi; this one is owned by a local politician
Scaling new heights A few of many walled resorts between Corbett and the Kosi; this one is owned by a local politician, Photo: Jay Mazoomdaar

GOING BY the widespread response from readers, the complexity and the scale of the mess at Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR), as exposed by last week’s investigation (Corbett. Now, On Sale, 12 May), has demoralised many. Yet, it is very much possible to fix accountability and reclaim CTR. Consider:

THE JAMUN ROAD
The 4-km road was created after an interim order of the Supreme Court had prohibited construction of roads inside CTR. The 2001 apex court order also defined the boundaries of CTR, which included the Durgadevi range where the Jamun road was constructed by then CTR director DS Khati. In any case, construction for non-forestry purposes is not allowed on forestland without statutory permissions. Why was no action taken?

THE ANGLING AGREEMENT
The 1996 SC judgment in the Godavarman case prohibited “all non-forest activities within the area of any forest” without the Centre’s permission. Local communities have the right to fishing. But angling, a commercial activity, was allowed inside a reserve forest in violation of the SC order. The agreement also exists in violation of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, since 2010 when CTR notified its buffer. Why didn’t the Centre intervene?

The angling resorts are supposed to share a part of their turnover with the villagers. Why has no inquiry been conducted into their actual earnings? The Jamun resort has been breaching many provisions of Wildlife, Forest and Pollution Acts with regular drives across the river, cooking on the riverbed, using forestland, etc. Why was nobody penalised?

CONSTRUCTION BOOM INSIDE CTR
The new entrants to villages such as Kalakhand are using the Ramganga riverbed as a road and carrying construction material to their plots on horses and mules from different sides through the CTR forests.

Their construction activities involve burning down of forest patches, felling of trees and quarrying sand and stone from the Ramganga river, all punishable under the Wildlife and Forest Acts. Why have the laws not been enforced and offenders punished?

RELOCATION
The proposal for acquiring abandoned patches of revenue land inside CTR has been pushed repeatedly since 2000. The Central policy is to offer compensation to any village willing to relocate from inside a tiger reserve and funds were made available to acquire land even outside tiger reserves in the past. So, why has the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) failed to acquire these plots, which are now being grabbed by the land mafia? Will the same inability to fund relocation outside core areas stall local efforts to shift Sunderkhal and Chukam villages, both outside CTR core, that block vital corridors to the Kosi river?

Moreover, the state government’s proposal to relocate 181 Gujjar families from the CTR core (Sona Nadi wildlife sanctuary) was sanctioned by the Centre in 2003 and alternative land was identified in Chiriapur range of Haridwar forest division. All keen to move out, the families are still waiting and their numbers have multiplied. Who is responsible for the delay? Why doesn’t NTCA offer cash compensation to the additional families and expedite the relocation before the situation gets out of hand?

DHIKULI AND ECO-TOURISM
In 2010, following a report by the Pusa Institute, the state chief secretary had asked the CTR director to draft a plan for declaring Dhikuli resort belt on the eastern boundary of CTR a “notified area”, which would have bound every property here to construction norms, land use specifications, etc. Why has CTR director Ranjan Mishra failed to finalise the plan even after two years?

NTCA chief Dr Rajesh Gopal was made the nodal officer for drawing up eco-tourism guidelines far back in 2002. Why has he not been able to issue the said guidelines in 10 years? Thanks to the delay, mushrooming resorts have completely choked wildlife corridors in and around Dhikuli and walled private properties are now coming up inside the reserve.

Under pressure, NTCA’s hurried efforts on 7 and 8 May to finalise the said guidelines mostly concentrated on regulating tourist safaris inside the forest — based on the quasi-scientific concept of a forest’s carrying capacity — while the real damage is being inflicted by a boom of walled, mega resorts on the outskirts of forests.

NTCA refused to secure CTR despite its mandate to fund relocation of any village keen to shift

QUARRYING
Kosi and now Ramganga are being quarried for sand and stone. Long stretches of the riverbeds have also been encroached upon. Why hasn’t the administration stopped illegal mining and encroachment that are killing the lifelines of CTR and threatening the water security of Ramnagar town?

MANAGEMENT
Since its management plan expired in 2008, CTR has been functioning without one. Why has CTR director Mishra not been made accountable for failing to draw up the plan? Why has NTCA chief Gopal been issuing funds to CTR in the absence of a management plan?

In the past two decades, CTR’s management plans have failed to resolve fundamental issues such as providing water security to wildlife in the southern parts or converting vast stretches of eucalyptus and teak plantations to natural forests.

Since 2002, four protection forces have been set up with a temporary workforce of 340 daily wagers without creating any infrastructure. On the ground, there is no coordination and every crisis results in blame games among these four forces. Where is the science and vision to secure one of India’s best forests?

POLICY
What is the scientific basis for demarcating core critical areas? While degraded forests dotted with villages are included in the core to ensure minimum area requirement of 800 sq km in many tiger reserves, undisturbed, top quality forest areas of Kalagarh were left out of the CTR core because the national park and Sona Nadi areas made up for the base requirement. Who is responsible for such arbitrary decisions?

CTR’s list of woes runs longer. But finding immediate answers to these few may turn the wheel for India’s most tiger-rich forest.

Jay Mazoomdaar is an Independent Journalist.
jaymazoomdaar@gmail.com

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How they save Tigers in Tadoba

In Maharashtra, a trapped cat agonises for nine hours as the rescue team dithers over intervention

Photo:Bandu Dhotre

POACHERS ARMED with traditional iron foot traps are on the prowl across 29 tiger reserves of the country. This warning was part of an NTCA advisory sent to states a week after two tigers were found trapped by a waterhole in Maharashtra’s Tadoba Tiger Reserve.

While one tiger died on the spot, the other spent nine hours in agony and thirst before the Forest Department team ‘rescued’ it. The delay led to gangrene setting in its paw, which may require an amputation, but only if it survives damaged kidneys and renal failure caused by prolonged dehydration.

Once they reached the spot with a cage, the vets waited for a treatment cage before tranquilising the distressed tiger as “shifting it from a normal cage to a treatment cage would have required another round of immobilisation”. Nobody asked why the team did not opt for treating the tiger on the spot.

Once treated and caged, the second round of active medication might have required another dose of tranquilisers. The tiger might or might not have survived that stress. But by keeping the tiger thirsty and its paw in a bone-crushing iron trap for nine long hours, the officials eliminated such chance factors. Now, if this cat survives, surely it will never return to the wild.

Before frowning on such official wisdom, sample this unofficial one. After the incident, wildlife experts were quoted in a national daily recommending creation of a number of new waterholes in Tadoba. The two existing ones, they reasoned, attract all the tigers and increase their chances of getting trapped. So many waterholes would offer them choice and safety. Again, nobody asked if the move would actually help the poachers. The staff failed to protect two waterholes. What are the chances of their keeping a dozen new ones sanitised?

 

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