GUWAHATI, Jan 11 - At a time when the tiger continues to be on a slippery ground, the State Government�s failure in expediting the formation of the Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) despite repeated reminders from the Centre has raised questions over its sincerity in protecting the big cat.
The STPF was proposed by the Centre following recommendations by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) for securing long-time wellbeing of tiger populations across the country.
The STPF is to be raised, armed and deployed by the State Government as a specialized force for tiger protection with hundred per cent Central assistance under Project Tiger.
Regrettably for Assam - which is among the last strongholds of the Royal Bengal tiger - the State Government, for reasons best known to it, is yet to do the needful in raising the STPF. This is despite the fact the STPF would be funded entirely by the Centre, with the State Government�s role restricted to recruiting the required manpower.
�The expenditures of maintaining the STPF will be borne by the Centre. The State Government only needs to raise the force by recruiting the personnel. But nothing has been done in this regard even after repeated reminders from the Centre,� official sources told The Assam Tribune.
Sources added that the State Government could also opt for a more convenient approach vis-�-vis raising of the force by recruiting youths living in fringe areas of tiger reserves.
�Engaging local tribal youths from fringe areas will also make the local inhabitants important stakeholders in conservation. It is often seen that fringe dwellers have a fractious relationship with the forest authorities, which harms the cause of conservation. The Government can do the recruitment immediately and without much elaboration, basing it mainly on the physical tests,� sources said.
Since the STPF is a dedicated force for protecting wildlife and also mitigating the human-animal conflict, involvement of fringe inhabitants would always be an advantage in realizing its objectives.
Assam at present has three Tiger Reserves - Manas, Kaziranga and Nameri. All these tiger-bearing forests, especially Manas and Nameri, are facing serious shortage of frontline staff.
A senior NTCA official said that it was for the State Government to set its priorities vis-�-vis conservation and that having a dedicated battalion would boost conservation in tiger habitats that suffered from manpower crunch.
He added that the NTCA had been making available adequate funds to the Tiger Reserves but the perennial irritant of late release of funds by the State Government was harming conservation.
Union Minister of Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar recently expressed concern over the delay in setting up of STPFs by the State governments, saying that they were being constantly reminded in that regard.
�Since last year the Centre has consistently been reminding the States about the urgency of raising the STPF, with in-principle approval accorded for raising, arming and deploying STPF,� he stated in the Rajya Sabha recently.
Meanwhile, the latest assessment of the status of tigers (in 2014) had shown a countrywide increase of 30 per cent, with an estimated total of 2,226 (range 1,945-2,491) as compared to 2010 estimation of a total of 1,706 (range 1,520-1,909) tigers.
The notified core or critical tiger habitat and buffer zones of the tiger reserves constitute 68,676.47sqkm spread over in 18 States, which is 2.06 per cent of the country�s geographical area where the tiger population is well within the carrying capacity and can hold the current population.