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| Last Updated:26/10/2018

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Tiger habitat declined by 41 % in 17 years, says IUCN report

Bhopal/Ahmadabad: Even as Madhya Pradesh's forest and water resources department (WRD) spar over 5,258 hectares of land that Panna tiger reserve is likely to lose in Ken-Betwa river-linking project, International Union for conservation of nature (IUCN) in its latest report has pointed out that Madhya Pradesh and other states of country have lost an alarming 41 per cent of tiger habitat in last 17 years.

"The Tiger's extent of occupied area is estimated at less than 1,184,911 km², a 41% decline from the area estimated in 1997. India suffered the most range contraction. While part of the difference is due to improved data after a decade of intensive tiger conservation efforts, and improved datasets and techniques, biologists consider the primary cause to be declines due to poaching and habitat loss," says the report.

It further says "Range decline is considered a strong indicator of population decline. Because an average of 55 per cent of Tiger Conservation Landscapes consist of non-tiger habitat, the declines in population and area of occupancy are greater than the 41% estimated, and thus likely indicate a 50 per cent or greater reduction".

Report warns that a similar reduction could be expected over the next three tiger generations (20-30 years) unless conservation effort becomes more effective. The survey has also found a decrease in tiger range of 12.6% in connecting habitat corridors from 2006-2010.

Though IUCN has not given a state-wise breakup of decline in tiger habitats, officials in the state forest department claim that Madhya Pradesh is fast losing its dense forests which has been alarming in the last two years. This has been acknowledged by union ministry of environment as well.

As per latest estimates of Forest Survey of India (FSI), MP which is among states having the largest forest cover, has recorded a considerable decrease in its green area including very dense forest (VDF) and moderately dense forest (MDF), said sources in ministry of environment and forest (MoEf).

Decrease in dense forest has been reported from Sidhi, Mandla, Satna, Umaria, Jabalpur, Jhabua, East Nimar, Dewas, Chhindwara, Chhatarpur and Balaghat districts and most of these districts have dwelling tigers. As per FSI's last report (2011), there had been a decrease of 7km in the VDF, and 21km in MDF.

Anil Garg, an independent researcher on forest land and expert on land records has accused state forest department of sending false data to the ministry.

MP has the maximum area under forest cover among all the states in the country as per FSI's last report. As per records of MoEF and FSI's last report 77,700km (11.24%) of the total 6, 90, 899 km of forest land in the country is in MP. Report indicates that Arunachal Pradesh with 67,410km under forest cover stood next to MP, while Chhattisgarh stood at third position with a forest cover of 55,870 km.

Despite these reports and protests from the state forest department, bureaucrats of MP are adamant to pave way for Ken-Betwa river linkage project in Panna putting large tiger habitat at stake.

In one of the recent developments, Union environment minister proposed to notify Nauradehi and Rani Durgawati sanctuaries in Madhya Pradesh as tiger reserves to compensate 5,258 hectares that Panna tiger reserve will lose in the Ken-Betwa river-linking project.

Water resources department (WRD), which is the nodal department looking after compliance of this project has moved a note sheet to state forest department seeking its consent. Wildlife activists have meanwhile launched protest against the proposed terming it disastrous for Panna tigers.

"This is not a feasible idea. MP government cannot be trusted upon given the pendency of notification of other two areas as tiger sanctuaries," says activist Ajay Dubey.

A dream project of Narendra Modi, Ken-Betwa river-linking project had been embroiled in controversy over its environment impact assessment (EIA). TOI had reported EIA's report which mentions presence of Sangai, an endangered brow-antlered deer only found in Manipur, at the Ken basin. Sangai sighting clause triggered uproar with environmentalists, who called the assessment report a sham.

Dubey claims "At least 80% of forest land required for the project fall in Panna tiger reserve on either side of Ken river. If this is the knowledge level of EIA, I am worried about tigers and other wild animals that may fall victim to the project".