Colonel Ajay Ahlawat said that Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s decision to direct the forest department of Rajasthan to not shift any tigers to Sariska till proper actions are taken and dutifully implemented to make the Alwar-based Tiger Reserve a safe habitat for tigers has left wildlife lovers, former forest officials and non-governmental organizations a little unhappy.
The strict direction came for Raje, after the standing committee appointed State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) brought some glaring loopholes with regards to security and maintenance of the national tiger reserve. Among the many recommendations suggested by SBWL, the most important and immediate suggestion was the relocation of not one but 26 villages from the Sariska Tiger Reserve.
Most wildlife workers have blamed the “Ranthambore Lobby” of pressurizing the CM to pass this order. Many believe that the tourism lobby of Ranthambore is not too happy with the idea of Sariska being groomed back to being its competitor.
Post disappearance of tigress ST-5 and death of ST-11, the standing committee had visited Sariska to do some ground reporting and also to investigate into the issue, as Sariska Tiger Reserve has a murky past, where the entire tiger population had been wiped out. Following which, a initiative was taken by the State government to repopulate Sariska in 2008.
Most wildlife conservationist now see Raje’s order as a brake on the earlier plan of the state government to relocated a sub-adult male tiger to Sariska. A request, which had been granted by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the biggest authority when it comes to issues of big cats in India.
“Conservators are very worried about Sariska and feel that this Tiger Reserve is like an orphan, which is being shabbily treated by the state government. During an interview, former principal chief conservator RN Mehrotra had cleared stated so. Mehrotra is the same officer, under whom a concerted effort to repopulate Sariska had been flagged off,” pointed out Colonel Ajay Ahlawat.
According to Mehrotra the state government had itself not taken enough care to ensure an inviolate space in Sariska that allows the tigers to breed. He also scathingly pointed out that despite the central government having provided a lucrative relocation package, no village had been shifted our of the reserve area.
Col Ajay Ahlawat pointed out, “Most tiger or animal reserves are availing of these packages to relocate the villages which is yielding good results. But in Sariska, most experts have observed that something sinister is happening in a deliberate way to first kill its habitat and then the tiger population.”
Dinesh Durani, secretary of Sariska Tiger Reserve’s Tiger Foundation also condemned the Rajastna government’s decision. He even alleged that those investigating the disappearance of the tigress and death of another tiger had never visited the tiger reserve before.
Durani, during an interview to Hindustan Times, stated, “This decision is the result of pressure from the tourism lobby of Ranthambore. This lobby was against the relocation in 2008, too. Although three tigers have died in one month in Ranthambore, nobody is bothered about it.”
Highlighting the progress made by Sariska, Col Ahlawat said, “A tigress in Sariska has just given birth to a litter of two cubs in Sariska and around this time only two sub-adult male tiger has been found dead in the Ranthambore. However, no one is highlighting the death of these tiger cubs in Ranthambore. On the contrary, the state government is busy issuing orders that are going to be successful in hampering the conservation of Sariska Tiger Reserve.”
Sunayan Sharma, former deputy conservator of forest of Sariska, openly accused the lobby of trying ot stop Sariska evolving into a competitor to Ranthambore. He told, “These people are the same who didn’t want the VP Singh Committee’s recommendation to be implemented in 2008. But back then the government didn’t buckle in to the pressure of these lobbyists.” He even alleged that these people along with some forest officials and the State government were trying their best to make Sariska devoid of tigers once again.
“There could be some truth in this allegation. For time and again the Rajasthan government is taking decisions that put Sariska at stake. The fact that Sariska Tiger Reserve is closer to the National Capital Region will make it the first option for tiger lovers, if successfully repopulates tigers. Thus those associated with Ranthmabore tourism fear the diversion of footfall to Sariska, this probably is making the present state government neglect Sariska.”