The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, reacted almost instantaneously to announce that the Government would evolve a mechanism to offer the the local residents jobs connected with the tourist services so as to dissuade them from lending a shoulder to hunters' guns.
The Prime Minister is reported to be taking the mission of saving the tigers very seriously. He recently assumed chairmanship of the Steering Committee of Project Tiger. Launched in April 1973 on the basis of the recommendations of a Special Task Force of the Indian Board for Wildlife, the objective of Project Tiger is to provide the big cats a sanctuary where they can multiply to keep the species away from extinction.
According to the Project Tiger Web site, nine tiger reserves were created initially; now 27 reserves extending over 37,761 sq km spread across 14 States have been brought under the ambit of the Project Tiger. Allocation for the Project in the Budget was increased from Rs 8 crore per annum to Rs 17 crore.
Unfortunately, these reserves do not seem to be providing sanctuary to the tigers. The reserves at Sariska and Ranthambore have proved to be highly inefficient in protecting the big cats. The Sariska Reserve has hardly any tigers. The situation in Ranthambore, Karnataka and Maharashtra, is no better.
A Task Force under Project Tiger recently recommended that the villagers around the reserves be relocated to ensure the security of the tigers. The cost of such resettlement is put at around Rs 600 crore. Tigers tend to stray beyond the limits of the reserves. As a result, the terror-stricken farmers turn unfriendly. To provide security for the tigers, Project Tiger envisages displacing the farmers from their ancestral farms and habitat. The Government and wildlife activists need to be congratulated for creating an awareness on the need to protect the Indian tiger. However, the important question is: Are the well-intentioned efforts well directed?
The African experience has shown that legislative restrictions on hunting are quite ineffective in protecting endangered species. For these animals continue to be hunted with the poachers taking chances considering the handsome pay-off.
Also, such prohibitions only promote corruption. A more effective way is to legalise trading in animal skins and other parts. This is found to encourage commercial breeding of the threatened species.
Environmentalists generally clash with industrial and chemical polluters. When it comes to saving wildlife, their interests clash with those of the farmers and the tribals. Not that the farmers dislike tigers and other wildlife; they love them as long as they confine themselves to the jungles or the reserves.
If the animals stray into nearby villages and kill poultry or milch and draught animals, the farmer loses patience and seeks to devise ways to discourage the animals, either with the help of hunters or, as a final recourse, by poisoning the beasts. At a more philosophical level, is it a futile effort to try and artificially save a species whose moment of extinction has come?
For, Nature does not share the conservationists' view, but destroys ruthlessly hundreds of species even as it creates new ones through its own myriad processes. Any effort at artificial conservation of a species that has outlived its utility is doomed to failure.
Conservationists' efforts can perhaps be compared to state intervention in an economy for protecting incompetent factors of production, and may actually prevent the evolution of new animal varieties.
(The author is founder, Shetkari Sanghatana and Member of Rajya Sabha. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)