Starting with the granddaddy of them all, Project Tiger in 1973, to the more recent vehicular pollution norms and the coming up of sustainable architecture, a green agenda has been part of governance much before it became a globally cool movement.

Udhagamandalam: A meeting of the Tamil Nadu Forest Staff Association, Gudalur and Mudumalai chapters, held at Gudalur on Sunday urged the Government to provide protection to the forest officials associated with the implementation of Project Tiger at Mudumalai and surroundings.

This document pertains to centrally sponsored plan scheme

The United Nation's ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (cop 9) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (cbd) was recently held in Bonn, Germany. Amidst contentions relating to bio-fuels and abs (Access and Benefit Sharing), Meena Gupta, secretary, ministry for environment and forests, finds time to give an update on India's position on these issues to Yashvendra Singh

Responding to the crisis, Ajjinanda Poovaiah, an activist of the NGO, Wildlife first, filed a well-researched complaint before the Karnataka Lokayukta (state ombudsman) in February 2003, alleging official corruption and mismanagement under the project.

A parliamentary panel has asked the Environment and Forests Ministry to sensitise villagers to man-animal co-existence and also involve them in wildlife conservation.

Keeping the faith: Rajesh Gopal, Inspector General of Forest and Member Secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, at his office in New Delhi. The leader of tiger saving project, Rajesh Gopal , is hopeful about protecting the national animal. He talks with Bindu Shajan Perappadan about the latest advancements in conservation programmes. Often referred to as the commander-in-chief of the army engaged in saving India's national animal, the tiger, Inspector General of Forests and Member Secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority Rajesh Gopal by his own admission "is concerned but has hope for the Indian tiger since it has responded to managerial intervention under Project Tiger.' "See no one can be happy with the situation that we are in right now. I am concerned but don't feel helpless. Our major tiger landscapes hold promise as seen in the current assessment. For the first time in several years we now have a fairly accurate count of the tiger population in the country and its habitat status. This is a good benchmark to start with at the landscape level,' said Gopal. While the Bengal tiger is endangered as it is being poached for its body parts to cater to a growing illegal world market, the population is even more precious because the Caspian, Java and Bali tiger population is already extinct; the South China tiger is nearly extinct in the wild. Spearheading a multi-crore ambitious project aimed at bringing to a halt the flight to extinction of the Indian tiger, Gopal is happy about the new method adopted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to count the tiger population in the country. "Earlier the methodology used was that of taking the total count, where we counted individual pug marks and arrived at an estimation of the tiger population in the country, the method had some obvious inherent problems. We are happy with the new method we have adopted which looks at the population of tigers in a more holistic way, and cannot be compared with the earlier one,' said Gopal. Questioned about the reduction in the tiger population despite efforts to conserve the population Gopal said: "If you look at the arithmetic of it we don't seem to be on top of the situation. However, a more scientific approach will allow us to realise that the figure of over a thousand tigers that we are talking about now is more close to the real picture, given the limiting factors prevailing in the tiger habitats. Another point to take into consideration is the fact that with the available potential area to protect the wild tiger population in India, we don't have the inviolate space to accommodate more than an additional 500 tigers, without fostering man-wildlife conflicts.' Listing protection of the big cat and the fragmentation of the tiger habitat as two of the biggest challenges faced by the Project Tiger, Gopal also spoke about the several new initiatives to boost the tiger population in the country. ''The report of the Tiger Task Force has been one of the most realistic and workable document that we have come up with. Several schemes have been put in place to ensure the acceleration of measures to identify and correct the problems with the current system,' says Gopal. ''The Prime Minister has reviewed the status several times and has also written to various Chief Ministers to take urgent action and work with the Central Government in protecting the tiger. We have also understood the acute need of younger and more motivated staff to stand up against the strong poaching network in the country. Taking a more holistic approach to counter man-animal conflict, the relocation package has been enhanced to Rs.10 lakh per family and Tiger Protection Force has been deployed in 17 important areas,' said Gopal. He adds: "As many as eight new reserves have been included in Project Tiger, and the plan allocation has been stepped up to Rs. 600 crores, apart from the Rs. 50 crores for creating an anti-poaching force. India has also initiated dialogue with neighbouring countries including China, Bangladesh and Bhutan to speak about common issues of concern in respect of curbing killing and smuggling of tigers.' Project Tiger is also now starting to look at the individual problems faced by various tiger reserves in the country. ''Instead of clubbing and generalising the problems across various parks in the country we are beginning to speak with individual heads of parks to understand their unique problem. Working with individual States and understanding their array of issues and seeking to solve them case by case, we expect will help us work towards protecting the tiger.'. For the future, Project Tiger has plans to employ technology to protect its wild tiger population. ''We are bringing advanced communication technology, digital database, networking systems and tiger population evaluation system to ensure maximum benefits of the various programmes underway to project the tiger,' said Gopal.

The Centre-sponsored Project Tiger Scheme has sent out a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to states as part of a new Five Year Plan that has allocated Rs 600 crore for the cause of the tiger. In keeping with the new-found urgency to preserve the dwindling numbers of tigers, the MoU has asked for all progress to be monitored through photo catalogues and videographing. There are 28 tiger reserves in 17 states. "So far, the states have not had any scope for reciprocal commitment in terms of tiger conservation. We have found that conservation of the tiger is a shared responsibility which the states have to commit to through the MoU. After the MoU has been signed, the Centre will release fund for Project Tiger in the new fiscal year in March,' said Rajesh Gopal, member secretary of National Tiger Conservation Authority. In a meeting last week, the Prime Minister had reviewed the new tiger census, and had asked chief ministers to take "personal responsibility' for the tigers in their states. The tiger count is at an all time low with only 1,411 in the wild. "The scheme will be strictly monitored. All activities will have to be catalogued through photos. For some activities, we will ask for videographing for our permanent records. For activities like relocation of tribals from critical tiger habitats, we will have photo cataloguing at every stage,' Gopal stressed. More than 70 per cent of the budgetary allocations have been done for facilitating rehabilitation of tribals and people living in the critical or core tiger habitats. Out of Rs 600 crore, Rs 345 crore has been allocated for deciding inviolate spaces for wildlife and relocation of villagers from reserves within a timeframe, which includes a revised pay package of Rs 10 lakh per family for relocation. While states have to delineate buffer zones, extending up to 10 km from tiger reserves, families living in buffer zones will be involved in eco-tourism. This means that the tiger's critical habitat within the reserves will not be disturbed by the Forest Rights Act. The security net

Project Tiger is an ongoing Centrally Sponsored Scheme of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The revised guidelines incorporate the additional activities for implementing the urgent recommendations of the Tiger Task Force, constituted by the National Board for Wildlife, chaired by the Hon'ble Prime Minister.