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Thursday, August 16, 2012

No school for children in proposed tiger reserve

K A Shaji, TNN | Aug 16, 2012, 02.57AM IST COIMBATORE: The dream of a proper school for tribal children will remain unfulfilled in Ukkiniyam village as permission for constructing a building has been denied by the forest department on the ground that it would be within the proposed Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve area. So, despite the Tamil Nadu government sanctioning 16lakhs for constructing the school building, it will remain only on paper. This has belied the claims of the forest department that it will exclude forest settlements and revenue villages from the core area of the reserve. As a result, 150 tribal children have been denied their right to education. Ukkiniyam is a hamlet in the jurisdiction of the Kuthiyalathur village panchayat. Significantly, the state government had sanctioned 16,05,000 for constructing the building under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan ( SSA) project just three months ago. According to V Mohan Kumar, a parent, Ukkiniyam is a forest village falling under Bhavani Sagar assembly constituency and one can access the nearby state highway only by walking through the dense forest for four kilometers. The village with Irula and soliga tribals is devoid of any basic facilities and the local community was illiterate. There are around 250 families in the village and their livelihood is collecting minor forest produce. They also help forest department in protection initiatives and the village never posed any threat to the wildlife. It was in 2005 that the primary school was started in the village under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and that was the first occasion when literacy came to the village. The illiterate villagers had built a makeshift shed for the school using their own resources and it reflected their keenness to ensure literacy for their wards. During the recent rains, the makeshift building collapsed and the children are now learning lessons by sitting on the open ground. As the region is famous for unexpected downpours, it has been becoming risky for the children and the teachers to continue the education exposed to inclement weather. The situation would turn worse with the onset of North East Monsoon. Meanwhile, many parents have stopped sending their children to the school citing lack of buildings. When Bhavani Sagar MLA, P L Sundaram, raised the issue before district collector and education department officials, they said the objection from forest department is preventing execution of the building project. Talking to TOI, Sundaram said he would even adopt legal means to ensure basic justice for the tribal children, who were just initiated to the world of literacy hardly seven years ago. Forest Department had recently prevented a local body in the region from conducting repair of a road to a forest settlement but the locals had conducted the repair works defying the orders.

Valparai tourism to implead in SC case on tiger reserves

K A Shaji, TNN | Aug 16, 2012, 02.32AM IST COIMBATORE: Tourist cottage owners and merchants in the plantation town of Valparai have decided to implead in the case presently going on in Supreme Court with regard to allowing tourism in tiger reserves. The decision in this regard was taken a day after Tamil Nadu government notified buffer zones for tiger reserves in the state to resume tourism activities and Valparai was classified as buffer zone of Anamalai Tiger Reserve. Over 40 homestay providers and more than 600 traders in the tea country have jointly decided to pursue their case in the Supreme Court by availing the services of an eminent advocate in New Delhi. According to them, Valparai is the only municipality in the entire country to come under a tiger reserve, be it core area or buffer zone. What irks the tourism and commercial operators in the hill station is the lack of clarity on what kind of tourism would be permitted in a buffer zone. As per the 2001 census, Valparai has an urban population of 94,962 people and their normal life would be badly affected even if the whole municipality and adjoining tea estates are treated as buffer zone, according to the tourism industry. Before it became Anamalai Tiger Reserve, the Indira Gandhi National Park had a 126-sq-km core area and 832 sq km of buffer zone. Both the core area and the buffer zone had exempted Valparai municipality and surroundings. The tourism industry here wants the same kind of exclusion from the Supreme Court now. "The issue of Valparai is very peculiar. Other areas in the country which stand close to tiger reserves are not urban like Valparai. We are here for generations and being in the buffer zone would land us in trouble,'' says S Jebaraj of Valparai Merchants Association. At present, entry to Valparai is through Aliyar and Attakatty checkposts and they continue to remain part of the core areas of Anamalai Tiger Reserve. So vehicular movement would definitely get affected and even locals would face difficulty in traveling to the plains at night to access hospitals, says Jebaraj. Even small eco-friendly construction works in the buffer zone require long procedures and there are chances of the restricted tourism becoming totally controlled by the forest department, he adds. "It is not a question of tourism alone. We have approached the local municipality, tea plantations and civil society movements to join us in impleading in the case in the Supreme Court. It is easy for the state government to demarcate core and buffer the same way as it was when the ATR was just a national park,'' says Mohammed Shafi, secretary of Valparai Tourist Cottages Welfare Association. Meanwhile, they clarified that the organizations are not against improving the green cover of Valparai and improving forest management in a way that would not escalate the human-animal conflict.

Declare Pilibhit tiger reserve to save big cats

THURSDAY, 16 AUGUST 2012 09:18 MOUSHUMI BASU N NEW DELHI HITS: 42 After the tragic death of three tigers under Pilibhit Forest Division in the past three months, wildlife experts have come out strongly for the forest division to be declared a tiger reserve. The third tiger was found dead on Sunday. The reserved forest area is home to 36 tigers. The Centre had given its in-principle approval for the forest division to be declared a tiger reserve in 2008. In 2010, the State Government wrote to the Centre in detail. However, the Centre sent back the proposal to the State Government seeking clear delineation of core and buffer zones. Now the matter is pending with the State Government. Further, the areas flanking the forest are very vulnerable to man-tiger conflict. Surrounded by villages that have sugarcane fields, there are repeated instances of tigers straying into these areas. However, fresh hopes have been raised with Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan bringing up the issue of Pilibhit along with four other reserves, in Rajya Sabha recently. While the reason for the death of two tigers on May 24 and May 25 was confirmed as poisoning, the forensic report on cause of death of the third tiger is yet to be received. The body of the tiger,however, had no injury or bullet marks, raising suspicions of poisoning in this case too. Rupak Dey, Chief Wildlife Warden, said, “We are combing the villages and other adjoining areas thoroughly to track poaching gangs that could have led to the incident. We are also trying to find out if there has been any recent case of killing of cattle in the surrounding villages.” He admitted that the two previous killings of big cats were in retaliation to loss of livestock. In order to ensure a better tiger management in the present situation, he said, patrolling would be intensified. “There is little doubt that tigers in Pillibhit are vulnerable. The State Government must not delay the long-pending process of notifying Pilibhit as a tiger reserve,” said Prerna Singh Bindra, standing committee member, National Board For Wildlife. Under the Project Tiger umbrella, Pilibhit will get the advantage of more financial and technical support, along with more focused wildlife protection. Studies indicate a good tiger density in Pilibhit, which also serves as a crucial link between Dudhwa and Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in Nepal. UP has barely eight per cent of its area under forest, and Pilibhit is among its finest and deserving of maximum protection. “This will also help mitigate and address the human-tiger conflict which is very acute in this area,” said tiger expert Dr Ulhas Karanth. Recently, a tiger had ventured out of Pilibhit forests reaching Central Institute of Subtropical Horticulture campus in Rahmankhera. It, however, did not attack any human during its 108-day stay in Rahmankhera near Lucknow and was sent back to Dudhwa tiger reserve. In 2011, there was yet another incident of tiger straying. It had killed 6 persons and was eventually sent to Kanpur Zoo. A straying tigress from Pilibhit had to be shot dead in 2009 following enormous local pressure after it killed five persons.

Govt to move SC to protect rights of tribals

Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times New Delhi, August 15, 2012 The Ministry of Tribal Affairs will ask the Supreme Court to review its interim order on declaring core and buffer areas in 41 tiger reserves in India after reports of tribals and forest dwellers being harassed in the name of implementation of the court order. Seven states have notified core and buffer areas in tiger reserves since the Supreme Court, in July, asked them to create the distinction and report the action within three weeks. The court had also imposed a ban on tourism in core areas in the same order. However, before complying with the court order the state governments failed to take people living in forests into confidence as required under watershed Forest Rights Act (FRA). “Restrictions have been imposed on movement of forest dwellers,” said Tushar Dash, a forest rights activist after a national consultation on the issue was held this week in Delhi. “Boundaries are being erected without settling of the rights of people living inside tiger reserves in violation of FRA”. Tribal Affairs minister Kishore Chandre Deo told Hindustan Times that a decision was taken on Tuesday to plead in the case. “We will bring to the notice of the Supreme Court that certain processes are to be followed as mandated under different laws to declare critical wildlife habitats (core area). People cannot be moved out without settling their rights,” he said, after holding discussions with senior officials of his ministry. The Forest Rights Act clearly states that critical wildlife habitats cannot be notified without scientific process and settling the rights of the people living in the forests. The Wildlife Protection Act makes consultation with forest dwellers mandatory for declaring the habitats. In these seven states, none of the processes listed in different laws was followed. The forest department officials had apparently acted in haste after the Supreme Court said that a fine of Rs. 50,000 will be imposed on state forest secretaries, if they fail to comply with the interim order within three weeks. Ashish Kothari of NGO Kalpvariksh said such a time-line makes mockery of the due process that has to be carried out for identifying and notifying buffer areas to promote co-existence between the wildlife and humans. “It is impossible to notify buffer zones with due process in seven days as these states have done,” he said. Many forest right activists believe that the Supreme Court order is being used by the state forest departments to usurp the recognition of the rights of those living in the forests. What has not happened since January 2008 --- when FRA was implemented --- the forest departments want to do in three weeks under the grab of the court order. Deo’s ministry has recently notified simplified guidelines for implementation of FRA to ensure that poor tribals and forest dwellers are not harassed. Lakhs of claims of rights have been rejected because of improper interpretation of the guidelines. States where core and buffer zone notified in seven days Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand Where these states have failed? Critical wildlife habitats have to be notified on scientific lines and after consultation with locals under the Wildlife Protection Act Approval of the Gram Sabhas to notify the habitats as mandated under Forest Rights Act has not been done. Traditional forest rights of those living in tiger reserves have not been settled before issuing the notification, a requirement under FRA. Its adverse impact? Movement of tribals has got restricted Tribals not being allowed to collect non-timber minor forest produce from forests Tribals fearing forceful relocation

Poachers pose new threat to Bengal tiger cubs

By Anis Ahmed and Azad Majumder DHAKA | Wed Aug 15, 2012 8:58pm IST (Reuters) - Royal Bengal tigers have been under threat from habitat destruction, illegal trade for body parts, natural calamities and angry villagers, but their cubs are now facing a new danger -- poachers. Three frail tiger cubs lying in an iron cage in a Dhaka zoo are the first live cubs to be recovered from poachers, who had planned to smuggle the animals out of the country. "(Tigers) come out of the woods in search of food in the villages, and often get caught and killed," said a forest ranger in the Sundarbans mangrove forest in Bangladesh, who asked not to be identified. "Now, the poachers have expanded their illegal trade by catching and smuggling cubs that are easier to trap and safer to move away." There are an estimated 300 to 500 majestic Royal Bengal tigers in the 10,000 square km (6,213 miles) Sundarbans forest, which stretches across part of Bangladesh and India and has been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO. The numbers of the striped cats, which usually weigh over 200 kg (440 pounds) when fully grown, have been falling steadily. Residents of a Dhaka high rise building found the squeaking and grunting cubs in June when the animals were trying to climb from the ground floor. Special security forces took the cubs to a private zoo, where keepers fed them with bottled milk and put them on display. But due to health problems and stress from the throngs of visitors, the cubs were taken to a specially designed home in Dhaka's Botanical Garden where they are being fed food imported from China. The recovery of the live cubs was a wake-up call for conservationists who had been unaware of illegal trade in tiger cubs. Adult tigers are prized for their skins and their body parts are used in traditional Asian medicine. "We have had reports of tigers being killed by poachers. But this was the first time we saw that they were captured alive," said Reaj Morshed, programme officer at the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh (WTB). Security forces arrested a man and his mother for collecting the cubs and keeping them until the animals could be smuggled out of the country. Each cub was priced at 2 million taka. Since the rescue the government has tightened laws for smuggling tiger cubs and imposed a seven-year sentence and a fine of 500,000 taka fine. Sundarbans forest guards will also be equipped with new guns and trained to curb poaching and smuggling. Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmad, the country representative for the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), believes the new law is a step in the right direction. "Previously we didn't have a stringent law to deal with this, but now I think with the law in force and increased awareness on the part of the people, protection will be easier," he said. But not everyone agrees. "This country had plenty of laws to govern the forests but they were never strictly enforced," said Mohammad Badiuzzaman, at a nearby village. "Mere talking of laws and launching of plans will do little to help save the forest and its inhabitants."