Madhya Pradesh sets up special force to protect tigers

By Sanjay Sharma, IANS,

Bhopal : With its tiger population dwindling sharply over the last two years, a worried Madhya Pradesh government will deploy a Special Tiger Protection Force in its three tiger reserves of Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench to arrest the big cat’s rapid decline.

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The state government took the decision as it does not want to lose its ‘Tiger State’ tag to Karnataka due to the falling number of the big cats, according to a forest department official. The number of tigers in the state is reported to have dropped from 300 in 2007 to 232 in 2009, he said.

A tiger census conducted by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in 2007 put the number of big cats in Madhya Pradesh at 300, followed by Karnataka with 290. However, another census conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in 2008 has put the population in five tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh at 232 – with 89 big cats in Kanha, 47 in Bandhavgarh, 39 in Satpura, 33 in Pench and 24 in Panna.

However, in April this year a four-member central inquiry committee announced that Panna had no tigers since January. “It is regrettable that not even one tiger is left in Panna,” committee chairman and former NTCA director P.K. Sen had said after visiting the tiger reserve in eastern Madhya Pradesh.

Concerned over the report, the Madhya Pradesh government formed a six-member committee to look into the matter. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan also transferred the field directors of Panna, Kanha and Bandhavgarh national parks late last month. “Now a Special Tiger Protection Force is on the anvil to protect the big cats in the various tiger reserves of the state,” a senior wild life official told IANS, not wishing to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

The state Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, H.S. Pabla, admitted that the tiger population in Panna had decreased but said the figure has remained constant in other reserves of the state.

Minister of State for Forests Rajendra Shukla last week instructed departmental officers to expedite the constitution of the Special Tiger Protection Force. Every company of the force would comprise 112 jawans, three sub-inspectors and six head constables and be headed by a deputy superintendent of police.

Constables of the force will be on deputation from the local police department and be below 40 years of age. Their deputation will continue till the police department creates permanent posts for the force.

The force will work under the control and guidance of the tiger reserve’s Field Director, who will send a monthly report about it to the National Tiger Protection Authority. The cops will be exclusively for tiger protection and be empowered to use firearms in dealing with poachers and organised criminals within the periphery of the reserves.

Officers of the state police department and central forces will impart training to the constables on skill development, dealing with poaching and acting on information.

(Sanjay Sharma can be contacted at [email protected])