Assam yet to constitute body to manage tiger funds

December 14th, 2008 - 9:37 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 14 (IANS) A crucial body to manage funds for tiger conservation is yet to be set up in Assam, home to three tiger reserves, including Kaziranga. And that means a delay in setting up anti-poaching camps, purchase of guns for forest guards and other important activity.The Tiger Foundation was to be set up by Assam after it signed an agreement with the central government last year. But there is no sign of it yet.

“They (Assam) have to constitute a Tiger Foundation and it will only be to their advantage. It was a commitment from them to constitute it as per the agreement. But this they have not done yet,” Rajesh Gopal, head of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), told IANS.

Manas, Kaziranga and Nameri are the important tiger reserves in Assam, and their protection is critical for the survival of the big cats in the country in the decades to come.

A senior official of the Assam forest department admitted on condition of anonymity that the setting up of the Tiger Foundation had been needlessly delayed.

As a result, important works that are vital for protecting the big cats are being held up.

“Currently, there are 139 anti-poaching camps in Kaziranga and at least five of them need immediate repairs. Besides, we also planned to purchase 20 rifles for forest guards, uniforms, and construct fair weather paths and power fences, and the money is urgently needed,” the official said.

It is estimated that there are around 1,500 tigers left in the wild in India. Kaziranga alone has around 60 tigers.

“The terai landscape of Kaziranga with a vast expanse of grasslands makes it an ideal home for the tigers. It supports a lot of herbivores that are food for the big cats,” said Gopal.

About Rs.40 million had been earmarked for Kaziranga, of which Rs.30 million was promised by the centre, while the remaining amount was committed by the state.

Even though the Tiger Foundation is not ready, the NTCA that administers tiger areas in the country has now released the first instalment of Rs.10.5 million promised for Kaziranga.

Gopal said: “We have already released Rs.10.5 million for Kaziranga. I am not casting any aspersions on the working of the government but they have their problems which delayed the release of central assistance.”

Officials in the state say the project is not likely to start in the current financial year.

Moreover, “since the (state) government has not made any monetary outlay in the current budget for the project, the cabinet will have to meet to decide on the state’s share. This could happen in the current session only if they do not delay further,” the forest official said.

“And if the funds lapse and carry forward to the next financial year, the government will still have to reply for not utilising it, and all that will take more time,” he added.

Kaziranga, some 200 km from the main city of Guwahati, was one of the eight new tiger reserves announced by the government under the Wildlife (Protection) Act as amended in 2006.

The sprawling 450-sq km Kaziranga National Park, a world heritage site, was merged with the Burasapori and Laokhowa wildlife sanctuaries to create the new tiger reserve covering an area of over 1,000 sq km.

“Conflicts between tigers and humans have increased in recent times. In some cases tigers even find their way into villages and towns, lift cattle and scare people. In one incident a tiger was found trapped in a village well…we need to do something before it becomes worse,” the official said.

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