As a citizen of this country as well as a resident of Bhopal, Suhas Kumar, who is an acclaimed wildlife expert and has the credit of developing Pench Tiger Reserve in its present form and playing a major role in formulating and implementing the policies of the Wildlife Wing of the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department for many years, has strong objection to the proposal to allow public and semi-public institutions to come up in the area around Kerwa in Bhopal. This area is home to around 11 resident tigers and dispersal route for the young tigers of Ratapani Wild Life Sanctuary. With the dedicated effort of the forest department of the state government the forest habitat of Ratapani, Kathotiya, Kerwa and Kaliasot have become excellent habitats for tigers and as a result of this there are around 45 tigers in Ratapani alone. Newsroom24 is presenting a brainstorming writeup by Suhas Kumar on this vital issue. It should shake the authorities in Madhya Pradesh and galvanise them into the action mode for the sake of Tiger conservation
The young dispersing tigers are travelling through the forests and revenue forests and riverine vegetation to those areas where tigers had vanished due to the onslaught of unplanned development – now these young tigers are reaching Sehore, Kantaphod, Kheoni Sanctuary, Omkareshwar National Park (proposed), Choral and Shajapur Forests of Madhya Pradesh. Therefore, tigers of Ratapani and Kerwa are major contributors to the overall tiger population of the State and this has resulted in Madhya Pradesh regaining its status as the ‘TIGER STATE’. Now, the Government’s move to allow public and semi-public institutions to come up in the Kerwa area would completely destroy the efforts made so far towards tiger conservation.
The State Government and National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) have already spent a huge amount of money to protect and manage this area for tigers. The Officers and staff have zealously spent so much time and energy to ensure that the tigers of Kerwa remain safe – for the first time in the history of conservation in India the NTCA spent around 4.5 crore to establish the e-eye surveillance system covering 3 territorial forest divisions, the state provided funds to organize a series of trainings for territorial staff for effectively monitoring the tigers, gathering intelligence and curbing illegal activities in the tiger movement areas. If the government at this stage wants to undo this hard work that is linked with the prestige of the State as the TIGER State of India, then it is heading for a major shock as the tiger-wildlife conflict will increase and as always the tiger will be the loser and the Forest Department and Madhya Pradesh will earn a bad name.
There is a strong need to understand that till a 100 years ago, the city of Bhopal was an extensive wild land extending in all the four directions but within the last six decades the progressively expanding township began eating into nature’s strong bastion that once teemed with wild animals. The onslaught of development accelerated and in the last 15 years, the city ate into the remaining wild habitats bringing humans into a direct conflict with wild animals. The concrete jungle has fragmented and destroyed the homes of the wild inhabitants. Till the decade of the ‘60s of the last Century, the jungle covered most part of the capital of the central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh and tigers used to roam in areas that now constitute the new Bhopal that is an extension of the old city.
Only a vestige of the original jungle remains at the South-East periphery of Bhopal and that too is now threatened by ill-planned expansion of the city. Ratapani wildlife sanctuary is located just at the South- South-East fringe of this forest garland. Ratapani Sanctuary is the only secure habitat left in this tract where tigers have been breeding. Over the years the habitat has improved, and the number of tigers has increased, necessitating young tigresses and tigers to move out from within the sanctuary boundary to the forests outside the Reserve to find suitable breeding and foraging habitats. My personal knowledge is that tiger’s movement in Kerwa has been reported every year since 1996, while a survey by WWF –India, in which they interviewed some village elders reveals that the tigers have been using the Kerwa-Kathotiya tract from time immemorial. It is another matter that in those times neither the media was so proactive to seek out tigers nor the Kerwa or Kaliasot area was so full of academic institutions, human colonies, and a heavy tourist inflow. The only change in the behaviour of tigers that we see now is that some tigresses have started using Kerwa, Kaliasot and Smardha forests for breeding and raising cubs.
Tigers make news especially when they appear near the cities; only a little commotion precipitates in media when the large cats wander around a village. Is it an elite abhorrence of tigers? The fact stares in the face – the city dwellers are under real threat from rising number of criminals in Bhopal. And from among animals, the city residents are more prone to contracting rabies from a huge population of stray dogs or there is always the danger of a deadly bite from the snakes that have become more active as their dwelling holes and crevices are being dug out and destroyed by colonizers. In sharp contrast, the tigers around Bhopal pose a marginal threat, in fact, it is this magnificent species that is seriously threatened by humans. (Kerwa Tigress: Photo by L Krishnamoorthy)
Possible Strategy that may resolve the problem:
- Plan the expansion of the city rationally to preserve the garland of the extant green belt around Bhopal.
- Identify all movement paths that a tiger might use to stray into human dwellings, fence these areas off with a combination of mesh-wire and solar power fence; both types of fences would need intensive upkeep and monitoring. Or, if the government is willing to spend money build a ten feet wall topped with 3 feet of mesh-wire fence all along the movement path like the one built by the managers of Ranthambhore tiger reserve to keep the town of Sawai Madhopur out of bound for tigers.
- Train and place at least six professional teams to monitor and report tiger moment 24X7 outside Ratapani sanctuary, and issue timely alerts.
- Identify suitable potential tiger habitats outside protected areas (in territorial divisions and buffer zones), carry out required habitat augmentation work to enhance prey base, build the capacity of the staff and equip them in a way to combat wildlife crime and monitor tigers in their areas. Once this is achieved the wildlife wing may be able to rehabilitate tigers straying out of natal areas into such potential habitats.
- Improve habitat protection and development of grasslands in Kerwa, Kathotiya Ratapani, Badi and Samradha forest and augment water sources where necessary in these areas. Once the habitat improves, chital (spotted deer) should be translocated from Protected Areas (Pas) with surplus chital population.
- Implementing this plan will entail a huge capital and recurring expenditure, but in a State that is committed to conserving its natural heritage, this is the only logical way to protect the Bhopal tigers from vanishing into oblivion.
The planned development of the area in question by the State Government was brought before the NATIONAL GREEN TRIBUNAL PRINCIPAL BENCH, NEW DELHI Original Application No. 457 of 2018 (Earlier O.A. No. 159 of 2014(CZ)) (I.A. No. 104/2019 (CZ) & 106/2019 (CZ)). As per the directions of the NGT the APCCF, Regional Office, MoEF and Chief Conservator (CC) at Bhopal visited the site and submitted a report in respect of the land in question.
The report of APCCF, Regional MOEF and CC, Bhopal, recommends as follows:
“Therefore, the undersigned most earnestly submits that to save the further destruction of this important tiger habitat all the remaining deemed forest areas may be quickly mapped, notified and handed over to the State Forest Department for administration. One of the ways to hasten the process is for the State to offer these areas under the Compensatory Afforestation (CA) scheme for a large number of forest diversion cases being submitted by the State Government, every month, to MoEF and CC for clearance. It is assured that MoEF and CC has no hesitation to accept these areas under CA scheme.”
After receiving this report, the NGT passed an order asking the State Government to direct the Forest Department of Madhya Pradesh to proceed on the aforesaid recommendation with regard to mapping, notifying and handing over the land so notified to the Forest Department. As per the direction of the NGT this exercise should have been completed within a period of three months by 30 April 2020.
This was a very logical and sane recommendation by the Government of India. The GoI even proactively suggests central funding to protect this habitat as a tiger habitat. There should be no hesitation on the part of the State Government to accept it without any reservation. I therefore request the State Government, as a citizen as well as a member of the State Board for Wildlife, to stop any further development work in Kerwa area and maintain a green belt there. The Government should also implement the Plan detailed above to ensure survival of forests and tigers in the area. Tiger is a national symbol and a matter of pride for the State, we all must strive to protect it and its habitat at all cost.
The author, Suhas Kumar, IFS (Retd.), is former PCCF, Madhya Pradesh. Now he is Member Madhya Pradesh State Board for Wildlife, Member Chhattisgarh State Board for Wildlife, Member Governing Council NCHSE Bhopal, Member Delhi Biodiversity Society, Member WWF-India, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh State Advisory Board