Ranchi, Aug. 19: The curious case of Palamau’s missing tigers, from over 38 in 2003 to a paltry six in 2012, has finally caught the attention of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh whose office has sought an explanation from the Jharkhand forest department that has steadfastly stonewalled queries on poaching and other illegal activities that are known to flourish in the 1,129sqkm reserve forests.
State forest secretary Alka Tiwary admitted that a letter from the prime minister’s office reached the state two weeks ago. In it, the PMO has sought to know how a huge number of big cats could have vanished mysteriously from Jharkhand in the last seven to eight years.
According to sources, the PMO also wanted to know what action was taken by state forest officials to plug loopholes ranging from management issues to transfer of officials at the helm and poaching activities.
State forest department records reveal Palamau Tiger Reserve was home to as many as 38 big cats in 2003. Over the years, their numbers have fallen steadily, and today there are only six of them left.
State forest officials have, however, always denied the existence of poaching or illegal wildlife trade. Yet, it has not been able to provide any logical explanation for this alarming trend.
Even if the tigers died of natural causes, or had migrated to other regions of the country, the forest department should have kept records and these should have been communicated to the Centre. But, none of that was done.
“We cannot deny that something went seriously wrong with tigers here. But I can furnish specific details of the ills which choked the existence of tigers only after I get a detailed report,” Tiwary said, adding that she had already asked chief wildlife warden of the state A.K. Malhotra for a report.
Malhotra refused to comment.
But, Tiwary said the state government was already looking into a host of administrative issues that have been plaguing the tiger reserve for long.
“For example, we addressed all objections in connection with the establishment of a tiger foundation and have forwarded it to the finance and law department. In two to three weeks it will be in place after obtaining a cabinet nod,” she said of Jharkhand’s delay in complying with the Centre’s mandatory directives.
Thereafter, PTR would be made autonomous for effective functioning, she added.
National Tiger Conservation Authority has written to Jharkhand on several occasions about the gross mismanagement at the reserve that suffered from a perennial funds and staff crunch, as a result of which it was unable to adopt various guidelines laid down by the Centre to protect tigers.
“All they are interested in is to construct guest houses and cottages in the reserve. If tiger funds were used judiciously, then where are tigers?” asked a senior forest official who did not wish to be identified.
He questioned the motives of a select few in the state forest department and asked how Palamau, that has a vast reserve of precious trees like khair, teak, sal, kadam and many medicinal plants, was allowed to be plundered by local mafia.
“There are so many unscrupulous elements in the state that even if one wished to one couldn’t get adequate support to unearth the mess. A CBI inquiry is the only solution,” he added.