Palamau Tiger Reserve in Ranchi
Ranchi, Sept. 6: Even as Palamau tigers draw blood, the state forest department continues to draw circles six months into this fiscal year.
Palamau Tiger Reserve (PTR) personnel can’t withdraw funds received from the state or Centre because the state government hasn’t authorised anyone to do so in 2013-14. It means PTR can’t recompense villagers for cattle killed by big cats even if money for the purpose is lying idle.
This bizarre manmade crisis poses a direct threat to the health of the 10-odd tigers at Jharkhand’s sole tiger turf, including the one who left on September 3 night and is still camping in Latehar.
When villagers in buffer zones don’t get cash compensation for cattle — over 40 were killed in the past couple of months — they become furious and try to poison tigers. For villagers who invest heavily in livestock, the fact that the tiger is an endangered species and needs to be protected makes no sense.
According to rules, if cattle are killed outside the core area, their owner needs to be compensated.
But Palamau officials can’t access funds this financial year. Every fiscal, the state forest department is supposed to release funds to the treasury and notify an authorised signatory — a tiger reserve official — in the gazette so that the person can withdraw money. The same person also claims central funds.
This year, the state released Rs 3 lakh for compensation, but has not issued an authorisation. Recently, the Centre released around Rs 4 crore, which is locked with the state for the same reason.
Insiders say the forest department has not moved a single major file this fiscal.
This is a glaring loophole that goes back to 1974, when the 1,129sqkm tiger reserve came into existence. For reasons unknown, the reserve wasn’t given permanent status by then Unified Bihar state government. In its absence, claiming of funds remains a tiresome process.
The forest and environment ministry, considered a coveted portfolio in Jharkhand, was in the news for the unsuccessful lobbying made by Congress MLA-turned-minister Yogendra Sao. Chief minister Hemant Soren holds the portfolio.
Amid the political hurly-burly, no one, including department secretary Alka Tiwary, had the time to declare an authorised signatory on behalf of Palamau Tiger Reserve to collect state funds.
At the reserve, villagers and authorities pay the price.
“Villagers are getting angry and we are worried. First, there were no funds. Now, some money has been released but we can’t withdraw from the treasury because our signatures are invalid. The declaration of a signatory was not done by the department despite reminders,” rued an official.
Ideally, a divisional forest officer or the park director is authorised to withdraw funds.
Divisional forest officer (core) Premjit Anand, who was the signatory in the last fiscal, said: “The most we can do is to write to the bosses and try convince villagers not to take any illegal route. We are doing both. We hope the problem gets solved soon.”
Another official was more candid. “We will get state and central funds this fiscal, but two days ahead of March 31, 2014. We will be expected to spend the entire sum in two days. It’s a farce,” he said.
D.S. Srivastava, a wildlife expert, said unpaid compensation could snowball into a major crisis.
“Lakhs are pending in compensation. If a tiger kills a cow or buffalo, villagers retaliate by poisoning the carcass so that the big cat feeding on it dies,” Srivastava said.
TIGER TURF ON CASH LEASH
What: PTR authorities can’t withdraw funds
Why: State government hasn’t appointed a signatory from PTR to withdraw funds so far this fiscal
Why does it matter:
If tigers kill cattle, owners in buffer zones supposed to get cash compensation don’t get it. Then, they try to kill the endangered tiger in revenge
Tragic farce: Tiger poisoned by villagers because compensatory funds can’t get out of red-tape stranglehold