An international panel said that lack of proper amenities, delays in payment of compensation for human and cattle losses, illegal fishing, and illegal minor forest activity are seriously affecting tiger conservation efforts. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) faulted illegal fishing, honey collection, and irregular or incomplete immunization of cattle as secondary issues affecting tiger population which it says has sharply dwindled in the past few years.
The independent IUCN panel of experts considered 45 different parameters adapted to the Indian context from the Management Effectiveness Assessment Framework (MEAF) provided by the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA). It uses these parameters to assess the effectiveness of each reserve ranked the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve the highest in their ranking pattern.
The IUCN recommended a series of measures and follows along the lines of the recommendations made by National Forest Commission that included that included applied research and special allowances and incentives for wildlife rangers to compensate for the harsh nature of their job. However, continued neglect of these crucial issues and fire-fighting short-terms fixes to manage public relations damage causes more harm than help the situation. The Ministry of Environment currently manages 28 tiger reserves and plans to add another 8 and while it promises to conserve wildlife, it was an ardent supporter of the ill-advised Tribal Bill that seeks to legitimize the forest-dwelling of tribes and also allows their harvesting of forest produce.
While the idea itself has merit, the lax monitoring and enforcement of residency, usage, and rights can greatly damage forest cover which has shrunk to lowest levels since actively recorded. Consecutive census data (1995, 1997, and 2001) has shown increased tiger population but has since been proved unreliable. Worse, there has been no census after 2001 and the nation has no reliable data to show the actual status of the tiger, which is the national animal of India.
To be fair, the Environment Ministry has taken some measures such as inclusion of tigers and other endangered species in the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, the punishment clauses for such crimes enhanced, and the law tighter to plug loopholes. It has also expanded the bureaucracy by setting up regional offices and signed several bilateral agreements with neighboring nations to control illegal trade in wildlife. Further, it has set up a Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and has even talked about involving the Army to stop poachers.
All these are well-intentioned measures but unfortunately doomed for failure for several obvious reasons. Firstly, given there is no record of the actual count of tigers in various parks, the government has no ways of measuring the effectiveness of it programs. Secondly, the corruption in bureaucracy and local levels is so high that there are no means to measure of control such errant behavior. Thirdly, conservation programs are ill-funded and ill-equipped and hence are incomplete. Fourthly, there are no motivating factors that can spur more proactive and constructive conservation efforts. Fifthly, the lack of power to forest officials makes their failure a fait accompli—after all, the forest officer would not like to invite the wrath of the animal poaching mafia and risk his and his family’s life.