Ranchi, Feb. 13: Jharkhand's roar has ended in a whimper.
An ambitious 10-year plan to check the majestic big cat's dwindling numbers at Palamau Tiger Reserve (PTR), which was drafted by the erstwhile state government for more than Rs 1 lakh, has been spurned by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) for being "outdated" and "unscientific".
"The plan lacked basic details, didn't set priorities and was kind of vague," P.K. Sen, a member on the NTCA review board, told The Telegraph from Delhi this morning.
The authority has now offered to do some handholding to help PTR tide over the crisis.
"We have returned the draft and asked PTR officials to rework it with a much holistic and scientific approach as soon as possible. The state will be responsible if it delays the plan any further because there is a rider that the 2013-14 fiscal funds will be released only after this exercise," Sen, a veteran wildlife expert who also served at the Palamau reserve in undivided Bihar, said.
In 2009-10, the NTCA had directed all states with tiger reserves to present viable conservation ideas. The plans were submitted on February 8 in New Delhi.
According to the NTCA's guidelines on tiger reserves, which are also under the Supreme Court's surveillance, each gamepark had to come up with a plan on core and buffer areas, habitation improvement, minimising man-animal conflict, anti-poaching measures and firefighting steps among several other parameters.
Tiger reserves and national parks in Mudumalai (Tamil Nadu), Nagarhole (Karnataka) and Nainital (Uttarakhand) cleared the test in the first shot, while Palamau did not.
Drawing comparisons, Sen pointed out that Nainital's Jim Corbett National Park, which is the oldest in the country, had great detailing and scientific approach. "Priorities were clear. Each had a set deadline and budget details. Officials had written down what the reserve would be like 10 years from now. This was missing in the PTR plan," he said.
"For instance, there are three villages in the core areas (which ideally shouldn't be the case), but the draft doesn't say how to solve the problem ' whether villagers will be evicted or the areas demarcated afresh. If there is dearth of food, PTR doesn't know how to turn around the situation. The reserve has not fixed its priorities, which is a must because everything cannot be done in just 10 years," Sen said.
The Palamau reserve's problem is manifold, ranging from cattle pressure, lack of watering holes, poor or no connectivity to remote areas to 85 per cent vacancies and lack of experienced foresters.
To top it all, it never manages to receive funds on time. "Even under President's Rule, the state is facing manpower crunch. It is a pity for Jharkhand's forest and wildlife," remarked Sen.
Wildlife expert D.S. Srivastava claimed he wasn't surprised that the Palamau plan had been nixed. "The draft was prepared three-four years ago by spending over Rs 1 lakh. But, lackadaisical officials never felt the need to update it," he said.
When contacted, PTR field director S.H. Kazmi admitted that their plan had been returned. "It has to be reworked now," he said, refusing to speak any further.