Tiger reserve shrinks
7 Jan 2008, 0420 hrs IST,Mir Ayoob Ali Khan,TNN
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HYDERABAD: The only tiger project in Andhra Pradesh, Nagarjuna-Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR) which lost about 40 big cats in the past 20 years, has now been forced to surrender over 1,000 sq km of its territory, all under legal cover. The NSTR that is also known as Rajiv Gandhi Tiger Reserve is spread over 3,568 square km running into five districts: Mahbubnagar, Nalgonda, Prakasam, Kurnool and Guntur. It was formed in 1978.
Following a directive from the Central Ministry of Environment and Forests under the 1972 Forest Wildlife Protection Act that was last amended in 2006, the state government had asked the forest department to form an expert committee and delineate the critical tiger habitat (CTH) in the NSTR. In other words the Government of India had asked the state government to cut down on the sanctuary area and go easy on the forest land, which it does not find to be critical. The state government swallowed the central line meekly and asked the forest department to set up an expert committee and mark out the areas that it considers vital for the tiger to survive. The department in turn asked its field director, tiger project, to study the sanctuary and come up with a proposal.
The expert committee on the basis of the proposal of the director came to the conclusion that it is not the entire 3,568 sq km that is critical for the existence of big cat but only 2,527 sq km. In the bargain while all the forest land falling in Nalgonda district has been left out from boundaries of CTH, huge areas in the other four districts have also been excluded.
The committee did not take into consideration massive chunks of forest land for the purpose of CTH because the forest department, in the past, had not been able to withstand government pressure for either de-notifying or simply giving up areas for mining, irrigation and other projects. For example, in the sanctuary land in Nalgonda district uranium mining is already underway along with the work on an irrigation project. There is no way that the lost land could be reclaimed. The committee thought it is better to come up CTH which is acceptable to the government than fight with it, the sources said.
The government issued a notification on the CTH about two weeks ago and the same would be published in Extraordinary Gazette soon.
The NSTR until 1990 reported frequent sighting of tigers with the population figure touching nearly 100 that year. The 2005 census figures, however, say that there are only about 50 tigers left in the reserve.
According to some environmentalists, declaration of the CTH within the NSTR means that the protection and monitoring of sanctuary as a whole would further deteriorate.
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