Minister spots the tiger, clears aircraft and sensors for Corbett

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Minister spots the tiger, clears aircraft and sensors for Corbett

Neha Sinha Posted online: Tuesday , Jun 16, 2009 at 0413 hrs

CORBETT : Years ago, he went to Periyar tiger reserve in Kerala, Sunderbans tiger reserve in West Bengal and Ranthambhore tiger reserve in Rajasthan, but he couldn’t spot a tiger. Then after taking Independent charge as Minister for Environment and Forests, one of the first official trips Jairam Ramesh made was to the Bhadra tiger reserve in Karnataka to see India’s most famous animal. But the tiger eluded him again. Last Saturday, the Minister got his wish — he saw two tigresses in the Corbett tiger reserve.

So it was appropriate that he cleared an ambitious plan for Corbett in Uttarakhand, on the lines never seen before for tiger conservation. He is now working to get Corbett its very own microlight aircraft for surveillance and monitoring, along with a net of motion sensors. Technology, the Minister says, gives a “psychological edge” over poachers.

“Most of the world’s tigers are here in India,” said Ramesh. “If we need to get ahead of poachers, we need to think out of the box. And whatever innovations we do, we have to start here at Corbett, which is like the Taj Mahal of India’s tiger reserves. This place has most of India’s tigers,” he told The Indian Express.

He has now cleared a Rs 8.5-crore Comprehensive Security Plan for Corbett, which will pan out over the next six years. “This is a big area and mobility is a problem. The microlight aircraft will be used for surveillance and also during times of emergency. We need connectivity and mobility which such an aircraft can bring. Apart from Corbett, we also will bring in this aircraft at the Namdapha tiger reserve in Arunachal Pradesh, which suffers from lack of connectivity,” he said.

The sensors all over the reserve will monitor movement, especially in areas used for illegal entry and exit by poachers. These were part of the security plan for Corbett proposed by the Uttarakhand Forest Department which has been cleared by the Ministry. Corbett, as per the 2007 All India Tiger Estimation, has the maximum tigers in the world — between 160-200 in the 1,000-square-km landscape. Funds are also being moved for a new museum for Corbett in Ramnagar.

On his visit, Ramesh interacted with Van Gujjars, a community traditionally living in the forest, but after a 2006 Amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act now being moved out of the reserve with a compensation package. In the last Budget, then Finance Minister P Chidambaram announced a Rs 50 crore one-time budgetary allocation for a Special Tiger Protection Force (TPF), which would set up a battalion to protect and patrol tiger reserves.

Ramesh is now looking at making a change to include Van Gujjars. A tiger reserve like Corbett is slated to have around 110 men as part of the TPF. “The TPF has been envisaged as a police force but conservation has to be site-specific. Thrusting outsiders or an armed, uniformed force will not always work. Only when local people are given an economic stake in conservation will our policies work. The Van Gujjars I have met are able-bodied, they know the ways of the forest. They should be the first to be part of the TPF.” The Minister has also asked for 181 Van Gujjar families to be moved out of Corbett tiger reserve in the next two months.

Meanwhile, tiger-spotting remains Ramesh’s favourite part. He spotted his first tigers on Saturday atop an elephant in Corbett’s core area — a tigress with her sub-adult cub. “You could say I spotted a tigress and a half. The sub-adult tigress was rather excitable but the mother was very peaceful. This is a great moment.”

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