Loving the tiger to death
Posted: Monday , Feb 08, 2010 at 0431 hrs
On February 14, Valentine’s Day to most, starts the Chinese Year of the Tiger. This will mean, say those watching the tiger poaching trade, that demand for wild tiger parts — the skin of a tiger tacked on a wall, and balms with tiger derivatives — will shoot up. But what does it really mean?
Last year, the World Bank, under its two-year old programme to save the world’s wild tigers — the Global Tiger Initiative — organised a meet for officials from tiger range to tackle the issue of tiger extinction. A second meet under the same GTI aegis was held for Asian (environment) ministers in Bangkok last month, a first of its kind attempt. A third meeting will be held in September in Vladivostok, Russia, for heads of states from tiger range countries. And India will hold a separate “Global Tiger Summit” in Ranthambhore tiger reserve, to talk about how tigers can be saved. The language has started to sound uncomfortably close to the rhetoric on climate change: in Thailand, a “target” of doubling tiger numbers in Asia by 2022 was adopted by the tiger range states
Apart from the conference lights, the World Bank is also attempting to provide loans for tiger conservation. India is crucial to this plan as half the world’s tigers are here: twice, the Bank has discussed proposals with the Indian government, and twice it has been turned down. In 2008, ahead of the launch of the GTI, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, then holding the environment portfolio, turned down the loan offer. This year, while the environment ministry has asked the Bank for a loan to clean the Ganga river, it has once again nixed a loan for tiger conservation.
Opinion is divided on the wisdom of India distancing itself from the GTI — but this debate has also served to sideline the real problem ailing our reserves. While many projects in general may scream bankruptcy, for tiger conservation, the real problem has been utilising the money.
Central assistance for tiger conservation projects goes to the state government, which has emerged as a bottleneck as far as budgetary expenditure goes. Consider this: of the 13 states with tiger reserves in India, only five have asked for a second instalment of funding, though the financial year will soon draw to a close. This follows a trend seen every year: tiger reserves are just not spending their money on time, and sometimes, not at all.
Now, a new system has been put in place to make funds go directly to tiger reserves, under a tripartite memorandum of understanding system. Under this funding strategy launched last year, a memorandum of understanding has to be signed between the state, the Centre and the field director for flow of funds. The funds for tiger conservation will now go to a dedicated tiger conservation fund (TCF) and not the state government. But while tiger states have signed on the dotted line, not a single state has authorised its TCF to receive money till date.
So while money is offered to India and then turned down, the real question still burns bright: what are our levels of commitment to responsibly using existing conservation money? The question here, ironically, is not of a lack of money, instead it is one of putting in place systems that square accountability with expenditure.
And what really do the Year of the Tiger, tiger campaigns by corporate honchos, cards, blogs, endless seminars and flashy joint statements mean? Nothing more than goodwill, if our tiger reserves don’t work. Several activities within our tiger reserves are cyclical, and years of work can be undone through a month of neglect. The most obvious is poaching and vigilance: tiger reserves have to ensure guards are fed, paid and given medical attention on an unflinching basis. This year, five tigers have died and one tiger skin has been seized — proof enough that new years and new conservation starts mean little for poachers.
Before India gives a nod for more fuzzy goodwill created with tigers as mascots, the Centre and states have to take a hard look at their own systems: something it can no longer afford to neglect