An investigation into the effectiveness of the federally funded Project Tiger, launched in 1973 to protect tigers in the 15 Tiger sanctuaries to ensure a viable population, concluded that the program is a failure because of insufficient training and inadequate methods. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said that the program managed to facilitate an increase the tiger population from 1121 in 1984 to 1141 in 2001-02 while national numbers declined from 3623 to 2906.
The CAG report cited several faults with the program:
The projects methodology to generate a count of tigers through the identification of pug marks was not foolproof and no other methodologies were explored to evince a more accurate measure of the tiger population
The project was also hampered by understaffing and existing staff were under-equipped and under-trained with a weak communication and intelligence network
Tiger reserves were poorly managed with no assessment of tourist accommodation capacity as required by the Project Tiger Directorate. This resulted in a serious imbalance of allowing an excessive number of tourists where so-called Very Important Persons (VIP) was preceded by an artificial corralling of wild animals into smaller spaces and therefore affecting their habitat
State Governments did allocate funds to match federal grants funds as required and misused available funds to meet non-project expenditure purposes
The actual area allotted for 15 of the 28 Tiger Reserves was less than the prescribed area of 1,500 sq km and hampered conservation, protection and sustenance of a viable tiger population
States did not demarcate boundaries of many of Tiger Reserves and also not legally cordoned areas falling within the Tiger Reserves
The Project Tiger Directorate had only 7 personnel that could not monitor, manage, alert, collate, or assimilate reports coming in from Tiger Reserves
The project was unable to relocate people living within the Tiger Reserves or prevent encroachment adding to the biotic pressure on the tiger population. This was primarily due to lack of funding; while the plan called for Rs. 11,000 crore (USD 2.39 billion) to relocate 64,950 families, the Federal Government allocated only Rs. 10.50 crore (USD 2.2 million).
The CAG has underscored the importance of relocating the families residing in the forests so the tiger has a chance to bounce back after decades of poaching, mismanagement, and encroachment. This recommendation is in sharp contrast to the recent Forest Bill that was passed in the Parliament which
guaranteed tribal and non-tribal forest dwellers right to live in the forest. Worse still is the
proposed Tribal Bill that seeks to grant the forests to these dwellers.
While the shock of such gross mismanagement will slowly sink in, what is more urgent is the apparent lack of process that will review these large but environmentally and socially critical programs. It is also becoming very clear that there is no accountability of politicians who run the Government or bureaucrats who are supposed to manage them.