| Big cats Safe in Indravati'
Bhopal, Sept. 27: No one from the claimed population of 41 in the Indravati National Park could be immediately contacted for comment, but under Maoist rule they seem to be having a carefree time.
A Reuters report quoted Indravati’s chief wildlife warden N.K. Bhagat as saying: “The tigers are totally safe... we have had no report of poaching.”
Maoists, who have a strong presence in the tribal-dominated Dantewara district in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, have banned entry to the park. If Bhagat is to be believed, fear of Maoists has stopped poachers, who are not otherwise afraid of tigers, from turning Indravati into another Sariska.
Not just poachers. No government representative is allowed to enter the park either, except forest officials who have been invited by the Maoists in a handwritten note to visit the park twice a year.
The guerrillas, who ' according to the Union home ministry ' are responsible for the death of over 6,000 people in the past two decades, said they had put in place a three-tier security ring for wildlife protection. The Maoists’ note put the number of tigers even higher at 55.
But senior government officials in capital Raipur, 400 km from the reserve, and environmentalists expressed doubts, arguing that no census had been conducted since 2000.
“Even routine government work has come to a standstill in Dantewara with no official daring to visit interior areas. So how does one reach a precise figure'” asked a senior IAS officer.
According to information available with him, the only time officials entered Kutrue, the village that is the door to the park, was in April 2004 when Lok Sabha polls were held.
A senior official who has served in Bastar said: “The claim is a Maoist attempt to project themselves as politically correct. But the truth is that tigers thrive on prey like cheetal, sambhar and deer and the region is increasingly getting converted into a desert.
“Is it not a fact that Maoists are making money by cutting down sal forests and transporting the wood down the Indravati river'” he said angrily.
Environmentalist Shailendra Singh Sharma said the government must conduct an inquiry into how forest officials had been filing records without visiting the park. The figure of 41, the result of a census claimed to have been done last April, is the highest since 1982, when Indravati was brought under Project Tiger.
Chhattisgarh’s principal chief conservator of forests R.N. Mishra, too, has raised doubts over the Maoist claim.
Once it came to light that tigers had been wiped out of Sariska in Rajasthan, the Prime Minister was jolted into taking protective steps. Delhi spends some Rs 30 crore a year on Project Tiger with matching contribution from states.
As Manmohan Singh chalks out plans in collaboration with states to tame Left extremists, he might chew on the fact, if corroborated, that tigers multiply under Maoists.