The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Claws out in tiger force

New Delhi, Aug. 5: The Prime Minister set up a task force to save the tiger. But on the issue of tiger-versus-tribals, the five-member force is split 1: 4 against the big cat.

Task force chairperson Sunita Narain and three other members favour involving forest communities in conservation, with the rider that certain “core areas” in the 28 tiger reserves will be out of bounds for the tribals.

Tiger expert Valmik Thapar is the lone dissenter, preferring to stand with the tiger. He says the notion of the big cats sharing their habitat with forest communities is an “impractical dream” and a “no-win situation”.

In this bitter feud, Narain, who submitted a copy of the task force’s report to the Prime Minister today, has found allies in former Project Tiger director H.S. Panwar, environment historian and National Board for Wildlife member Madhav Gadgil and former secretary and another board member Samar Singh.

Narain, a leading environmentalist herself,

The differences among task force members mirror those in the government at a time it is debating whether to allow tribals greater control over forest resources through a bill. Official sources say the Prime Minister is likely to give more weight to the majority opinion, led by Narain.

Thapar, who helped expose the tiger crisis in Sariska and Ranthambore, has been strongly critical of the majority opinion in his note of dissent in the report.

“Let us not forget that the task force was mandated to suggest measures to save the tiger from vanishing off the face of India,” he writes. “Unfortunately, in its eagerness to find ‘eternal solutions’ for all problems afflicting the country at one go, the task force seems to have lost this mission focus and has gone adrift trying to find solutions to all the problems of inequity and social injustice that afflict India.

“In the process, the interests of the tiger’s survival have been relegated and lost sight of.”

In her reply, Narain notes that a few conservationists want “to keep the group small, as they believe that everyone else is against the tiger”.

“Some conservationists have direct interests in tiger protection ' through businesses in hotels, filming, land or conservation ' and this has only lead to greater alienation of all against the tiger, which they believe is being protected for the sake of (a) few.”

Narain notes the anger among the local people in Ranthambore against “conservationists”.

“Not only was it their complaint that they had got nothing from the park, but they were bitter that others ' prominent conservationists ' were misusing their position to circumvent rules for their own interests.

“This sense of injustice has created a huge constituency against the park and I strongly believe that this is bad for conservation.”

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