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The Hindu
The Hindu
The Hindu Bureau

Opinion split over move to merge Project Tiger and Project Elephant

There is difference of opinion within the Forest Department in the State over the Centre’s move to merge Project Tiger and Project Elephant, while activists are miffed and have sharply criticised it as dilution of focus of both the programmes.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change announced the merger of the two flagship programmes in April and notified Project Tiger (PT) as Project Tiger and Elephant (PTE).

The new division received an administrative authority in June with the Additional Director-General of Forests – Project Tiger (ADG-PT) being redesignated as ADGF (PT &E). Besides, the Inspector-General of Forests PT has been made to report to ADGF (PT & E) and this has resulted in apprehension that Project Tiger is set to lose its identity.

Activists have questioned the move on the grounds that both the programmes required separate units and heads, given the different nature of challenges in their conservation. The present move, they argue, will dilute the focus of both the programmes.

But a section of the senior officials, including Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Kumar Pushkar, has averred that there is no change in the administrative set-up despite the change in nomenclature and there will be no negative impact at the field level as well.

Mr. Pushkar said the merger would only help streamline the conservation efforts of the two flagship species as both tigers and elephants shared the same habitat, and initiatives to help save one species benefited the other species as well. As these two animals were at the apex of carnivore and herbivore species respectively, the benefit percolated to all species, he added.

However, another official argued that Project Elephant had its own set of requirements as elephants were increasingly coming under conflict situation. The human-animal conflict situation entailing elephants was higher than other animals and the impact area of the problem was not local but more widespread, the official added.

“Karnataka has about 6,000 to 7,000 elephants as per the 2017 enumeration and a significantly high number of them – almost 30 per cent – are in areas outside Project Tiger reserves. Hence there is genuine concern that funding in such areas will be affected,” said the official.

In addition, there were places in Hassan and Kodagu where elephants lived in plantations, and funding to mitigate the conflict situation would dwindle.

Sanjay Gubbi, conservation biologist, said Project Elephant ideally should have a separate institutional or administrative set-up along with extra funding as the conflict with elephants was increasing day by day.

Though elephant was designated as a national heritage animal, funds released so far for its conservation was inadequate, he added.

But an official of the rank of Deputy Conservator of Forests said Central funding for Project Elephant was by and large insignificant and it was the State which was releasing funds to mitigate conflict.

In addition, the State had constituted the Elephant Task Force to handle conflict situation and hence funding for it would not be diluted. Central funds for habitat conservation of tigers or elephants would only benefit all the species and would streamline administration, he added.

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