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Muta vulture centre, a 4-year-old joke

- Rearing hub for critically endangered species waits for Delhi’s final nod & Mumbai bird-catchers

Four years plus Rs 40 lakh of public money is equal to zero output.

That’s the fate of the state forest department’s much touted-vulture breeding centre in Muta, 22km from Ranchi, which is yet to see the light of day owning to hitches at every level, displaying complete lack of urgency to conserve the critically endangered species.

Currently, Jharkhand has a vulture population of aro-und 350-400, mostly in Hazaribagh, and the numbers are dipping every day.

Across India, the commonest griffon vultures declined by 90 per cent in the past decade.

The most significant reason was the drug, diclofenac, given to cows by farmers. When vultures fed on the cow carcasses left out in the open, this drug caused rapid liver failure and death.

Between 2009-end and early 2010, the state forest department mooted a vulture-breeding centre in Muta village, Ormanjhi, on Ranchi outskirts. The project was envisioned on the lines of the centre in Pinjore, Haryana, which had started in 2007.

Like the Pinjore centre, the aim of the Muta one was also to reverse the trend of dwindling vulture population by catching birds and rearing them.

The Rs 41-lakh project started with civil work in 2010. A year later, forest department officials discovered engineering flaws. Some were rectified by 2011-end.

The department spent the whole of 2012 sitting idle.

In early 2013, the forest department realised the state didn’t have any vulture catchers. To hire one from outside and to start the breeding centre, permission from the Union ministry of environment and forest was mandatory.

Around April 2013, then chief wildlife warden S.N. Trivedi had said he had written to the Centre seeking permission for both. Reportedly, the Centre gave its informal nod in a month, following which the forest department announced the breeding centre was expected to begin in November 2013.

That has not happened, the reason being a pending official nod. “The formal consent is awaited from the director, wildlife, government of India,” said A.K. Pandey, state chief conservator of forest (wildlife).

If another source is to be believed, the state forest department is equally to blame.

“We wrote a letter to the Centre for its consent to start the Muta centre and hire a Mumbai expert from Bombay Natural History Society. The Centre diverted our proposal to the Society, which contacted us, stating they would help us in catching vultures. They gave reference to our letter to the Centre. Doesn’t it imply the Centre’s consent,” he said.

Points and counter-points wouldn’t save the birds flying towards extinction.