Bhopal: Even though Madhya Pradesh has reported highest tiger population with 526 tigers, according to All India Tiger Estimation Report 2018 released on Monday, the state has lost 17781.588 acres of Very Dense Forest (VDF) and Moderately Dense Forest (MDF) in last four years, reveals the Forest Survey of India (FSI) report.
Between 2013 and 2015, the state lost 14,826.323 acres of land (60 sq km). Between 2015 and 2017, the state lost 2955.265 acres of forest land (12 sq km), the SFI report says.
Madhya Pradesh is the second largest state in terms of forest area in the country, but the forest is constantly shrinking in the state, the report says.
In 2013, the state had 77,522 sq km forest area, which reduced to 77,462 sq km by 2015 – marking a loss of 60 sq km (14826.323 acres). And between 2015 and 2017, the state has lost 48 sq km (11,861 acres) of forest land and total forest area shrunk from 77, 462 to 77,414 sq km.
The FSI which conducts survey of forests every two years has reported sharp decline in dense forest areas of Balaghat, Bharhwani, Burhanpur, Ashoknagar, Dhar, Guna, Indore, Khandwa (East Nimar), Raisen, Sagar, Seopur and Vidisha districts.
With shrinking habitat, tigers’ movement has increased outside the protected areas, into human habitation. Thus, they become vulnerable to poaching and to conflict with humans. In last one year, a dozen incidents have been reported across the state.
“Unlike protected areas, these reserved forests have higher pressure because of the human activity and forest staff have to play a multifaceted role though they lack exposure and specialised training,” said Vaibhav Chaturvedi, a conservation expert.
In the recent past, such areas have witnessed numerous poaching incidents. The reasons range from retaliatory killings due to conflict to poaching for occult practices. Poisoning, electrocutions, snares, and even guns have been used.
“With six tiger reserves and three global priority sites according to IUCN, MP has a significant role in global tiger conservation. To ensure that the viable tiger population exists in MP while minimising conflict, it is important that conservation efforts now focus on territorial forests adjacent to protected areas, wildlife corridors, and areas which have traditionally been tiger habitats and are being reclaimed by tigers,” he said.
Kanha, Pench, Panna and Bandhavgarh are nearing or exceeding saturation point, leading to higher rate of dispersal, according to a Times of India report.
An independent researcher and an expert on land records, Anil Garg, has accused the state forest department of sending false data to the Ministry of Forests and Environment to hush up the actual loss of forest cover in the last few years.
Garg has made a written complaint to the Forest Survey of India, Dehradun, asking it to stop publishing the false data provided by the state government and has urged it to conduct a fresh survey.
“MP shows 97 lakh hectares of reserved forest (RF), protected forest (PF), un-demarcated land and orange area as its forest cover, which is illegal. All this land is community land, as mentioned in the books of the Revenue Department. This is a big fraud,” said Garg. “There is no rule which allows inclusion of these lands as forest land. This would only strengthen Maoist activities in these states,” he added.
Crores spent on Tigers but not on their habitat
From 2010 to 2017, the state had spent Rs 1,050 crore on tiger conservation and their efforts have paid off, but the Forest Department is hardly paying any heed to the shrinking forest or developing tiger movement corridors.
The Forest Department plants saplings and draws lakh of rupees in the name of increasing forest cover, but the results are negligible.
Retired Forest Guard of Madhya Pradesh Forest Department and resident of Sidhi district, Chandrabhan Pandey, said, “In 32 years of my job, I have never seen any new forest cover being built or created. Just to show off, the department officials sometimes, call school children or politicians and plant some saplings in the name of growing forests and draw huge money, but never look back.”
Deforestation is rampant in many districts like Balaghat, Vidisha, Raisen because private contractors are illegally cutting the normal trees in the name of rotational felling or old trees, Pandey claimed.
“The most important thing is that Adivasis have been thrown out of the forests in the name of forest conservation by the Forest Department. But they are the real protectors of the forest, and it has been their habitat for thousands of years. The forest is in their DNA, they never harm it,” he asserted.
Need to revive corridors
Satpura-Melghat corridor – From Satpura Tiger Reserve to Melghat of Maharashtra had been a tiger corridor for centuries. But from last couple of years, it has been dismantled between Hoshangabad and Betul. Evidently, Satpura tigers wander the route and reach human habitats. Recently, a tiger from Satpura wandered in Betul’s Sarni district, but villagers informed the department, and they captured it.
Kanha- Pench and Pench-Satpura - Both are tiger reserve national parks, but the corridor between both the parks has been dismantled for years. As a result, tigers enter nearby villages. The Forest Department is yet to revive it.
Former field officer of State Forest Department and member of Madhya Pradesh Biodiversity board, NS Murti said, “Reviving old tiger corridors is very important and government should fix the dismantled routes. If not, then, we may see more tiger-human conflicts in near future because tigers are increasing but not the forests.”
When contacted, Chief Wild Life Warden, Shahbaz Ahmad, said, “We are conducting surveys by identifying old corridors to make tigers safe. We will send the proposal to the government after the survey.”
Why are forests shrinking?
The report has attributed this loss to expansion of agriculture fields, development activities, submergence, mining and rotational felling. But experts claimed that illegal cutting of tress, encroachment on forest land and mining are the major reasons behind it.
Wild life expert and trustee of an NGO Conservation Action Trust, Debi Goenka, said, “The tigers can only be protected if we protect forests. We need to revive corridors, stop encroachment and build new forest through plantation drive.”
While Field Director of Panna Tiger reserve, KS Bhadouriya, said, “It is true that the state has done quite well in conservation of tigers, but owing to the encroachment the forest is shrinking. It is a big challenge for the department to save the forests areas.”