Current Context

Launched in 1973, Project Tiger introduced India’s Tiger Reserves – which have since rapidly ascended in status.

Project Tiger

Origin of Project Tiger:

In 1972, India enacted the Wildlife (Protection) Act (WLPA) and introduced new spatial fixtures within notified forests, called ‘National Parks’ (NPs).

  • In the NPs, the rights of forest-dwellers were removed and vested with the State government.
  • The WLPA also created ‘Wildlife Sanctuaries’, where only some permitted rights could be exercised.

The government created the ‘Critical Tiger Habitat’ (under the WLPA) in areas of National Parks and Sanctuaries which are required to be kept as inviolate for the purposes of wildlife conservation.

What is Project Tiger?

  • In 1973, Project Tiger is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change providing central assistance to the tiger States for tiger conservation in designated tiger reserves 
  • It is administered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
  • The basic philosophy was to not interfere with nature. 
  • The survival of the tiger was looked at from the logic of it being at the apex of the food chain and hence it followed that the natural habitat was to be sustained. 

A ‘core-buffer’ model was followed. 

The core areas were freed from all sorts of human activities and the buffer areas were subjected to ‘conservation oriented land use’.

Management Plan:

Each tiger reserve had management plans in accordance with the following principles: 

  • Elimination of all forms of human exploitation and biotic disturbance from the core area and rationalization of activities in the buffer zone. 
  • Restricting the habitat management only to repair the damages done to the eco-system by human and other interferences, so as to facilitate recovery of the eco-system to its natural state. 

Developments After the Launch of the Project Tiger:

In 2005, the then PM appointed a 5-member ‘Tiger Task Force’ after a public outcry that India’s tigers existed only on paper and not in the forests of Sariska in Rajasthan.

  • In Sariska, the government had spent Rs 2 crore per tiger in 2002-2003 for their upkeep and safety, versus Rs 24 lakh per tiger elsewhere.

• The Task Force found that the increasing conflict between the forest/wildlife bureaucracy and those who coexist with the tigers was a recipe for disaster.

So, the Parliament amended WLPA in 2006 to create the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and a tiger conservation plan.

From an administrative category arbitrarily constituted and administered by the forest bureaucracy, Tiger Reserves became a statutory category in 2006.

Later, the government also enacted the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006, which recognised all customary and traditional forest rights – individual as well as community – on all forest land, including in Tiger Reserves.

  • Under the Act, the habitation-level Gram Sabha was to democratically determine and demarcate the forest rights that FRA recognised and vested in them.
  • As a result, FRA secured the livelihoods of at least 20 crore Indians – about half of them tribals – in 1.79 lakh villages.

Importantly, FRA introduced a ‘Critical Wildlife Habitat’ (CWH), akin to the CTH, with one difference: once a CWH had been notified, it couldn’t be diverted for non-forestry purposes.

Status of the Project Tiger:

From only 9 Reserves ( Bandipur, Corbett, Kanha, Manas, Melghat, Palamau, Ranthambore, Similipal, and Sunderbans) in 1973 encompassing 9,115 sq. km, there are today 54 in 18 States, occupying 78,135.9 sq. km/ 2.38% of India’s total land area.

  • CTHs covers 42,913.37 sq. km/ 26% of the area under National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.

According to Census 2022, there were 3,167-3,925 tigers in the country and their population is growing at 6.1% a year, prompting the government to claim India is now home to 3/4th of the world’s tigers.

The monitoring system M-STrIPES (Monitoring System for Tigers – Intensive Protection and Ecological Status) – is a software-based monitoring system developed (by NTCA in 2010) to assist patrol and protect tiger habitats.

Concerns Regarding India’s Tiger Protection and Conservation Plans:

Exclusionary approach:

  • The Buffer Area outside the CTH is to promote human-animal coexistence while recognising the livelihood, developmental, social, and cultural rights of the local people.
  • However, the overall ‘fortress conservation’ approach to protecting tigers displaced people who had coexisted with tigers for generations.

Except for Similipal (Odisha), the CTHs had no Buffer Area:

  • India bears the long-term brunt of this error: tigers have been forced to inhabit and inherit a landscape leading to increase in man-wild conflict incidences.
  • With further increase in tigers and Tiger Reserves, and tiger corridors to link them up, India’s tiger terrain is set to become a hotspot not for biodiversity but anxiety and conflict.

Issues with relocation and rehabilitation:

  • WLPA prohibits all relocation except “voluntary relocation on mutually agreed terms and conditions” satisfying requirements in the law.
  • According to the FRA and the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act 2013, no relocation can happen without the consent of the affected communities.
  • LARR also requires the rehabilitation package to provide financial compensation as well as secure livelihoods to those relocated.
  • However, these provisions are not followed in letter and spirit.

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