While we are only just recovering from the death of tigress Avni or T1, news came along of the tiger killed by 'angry' villagers in Dudhwa, UP, for allegedly mauling a man in the forest.
But let us not mourn too soon — we have a lot many more tiger mournings lined up.
The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) has reportedly in principle cleared 87.98 hectares of land in Kondhali and Kalmeshwar ranges — 40 km from Nagpur, barely 160 km from Yavatmal where Avni was killed — to explosives company Solar Industries India Ltd (SIIL) in Chakdoh for manufacturing defence products.
Tigeress that was crushed to death with a tractor by villagers in the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve on November 4, 2018 (Credit: Randeep Hooda, Twitter).
According to news reports, the 222-acre reserve forest has been allocated to Solar Industries India Ltd (SIIL) — that aims to be the first domestic missile integration company in the private sector in India.
To put things in perspective, the area of the land diverted is equivalent to 293 full football stadiums and is valued to be worth over Rs 100 crores.
However, SIIL will apparently be paying Rs 7.09 crore on a piecemeal basis for “compensatory afforestation and also build artificial bird nests”. Initially, SIIL will reportedly spend Rs 3.37 lakh on 750 artificial bird nests. “We will pay Rs 1 crore in five years to the forest department (Rs 20 lakh per year) for conservation,” SIIL business director JF Salve has reportedly said
The land that has been earmarked for SIIL houses six tigers — four males and two females with cubs — according to three independent survey reports by expert committees. These surveys are mandatory ahead of clearance of forest areas diverted for industrial purposes.
The survey further indicated the presence of at least six leopards in the area with a healthy prey base for the big cats including spotted deer, barking deer, wild dogs, wild boars, sambars, nilgai and civets, amongst others — all within a radius of five kilometers in the periphery of the SIIL premises.
“A small piece of land will be utilized for manufacturing critical defence products while remaining land is needed for safety distance. Some of the areas will also be fenced,” Salve told reporters. He further added that the compensatory afforestation land has been identified in Hirapur in Saoli range in Chandrapur — incidentally, Maharashtra Forest Minister’s hometown — where plantations will be taken up. The company is also required to give an equivalent area of land as it is taking up for the project to the government as compensation.
In 2015, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) pointed out that India lost 41 percent of tiger habitat since 1997.
Not surprisingly, the report said, “India suffered the most range contraction. Biologists consider the primary cause of decline to be habitat loss,” the report reads.
If this is not enough, the land earmarked for the defence project by SIIL is the tiger corridor between Bor and Melghat tiger reserves. A wildlife corridor is a strip of land that connects two habitats — in this case, the Melghat and Bor tiger reserves. When the habitat or corridor is fragmented due to anthropogenic activities, it breaks up wild populations into groups that are too small — this causes inbreeding and the loss of the genetic diversity to sustain population viability over the long term.
Furthermore, it increases the population density in the given forest space to beyond sustainable levels and pressure on prey (or other food resources) increases. Besides directly causing a negative impact on reproduction rates, this leads to the animals venturing into the ‘human habitations’ on the fringes of the forest for food — leading to human-wildlife conflict — and as a result, more horrendous incidents like Avni or Dudhwa.
Wildlife experts estimate that 29 percent of the tigers in India are outside the areas marked as ‘protected’ forests. Back in 2015, India gloated that it hosts 70 percent of the world’s tiger population at 2226 individuals — and recorded a 30 percent jump in population from an all-time low of 1411 tigers in 2006. Back then — and now — the conservationists were concerned about the rise in numbers without a proper rise in the quality of habitat. They warned of increased conflict if the habitats were not restored — an ominous prediction now increasingly coming true.
So, with the government seemingly handing away forests on a platter to industries, the question arises — where do the tigers go? Or, as we say in Hindi, “Jaaye toh jaaye kahaan?”
The answer — Bhaad mein. To hell.