Bhopal: Madhya Pradesh stands to lose out on crucial tiger conservation funds as the Union Government has refused to part with the money unless the state signs a tripartite agreement, officials say.
It is to be signed by the state, the centre and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
The state has opposed the agreement, saying it will make directors of its tiger reserves accountable for any lapses and liable to penal action if the tiger numbers decline.
"Madhya Pradesh is unlikely to get funds for management of its reserves unless it signs the tripartite pact that aims to ensure accountability in the state`s tiger conservation efforts," an official said on condition of anonymity.
"This will put the striped cats in the state`s reserves at risk and lead to its losing its status of a tiger state." Madhya Pradesh has around 290 tigers.
Official sources say the state government does not want field directors of tiger reserves to become signatories to the MoU as it feels that the NTCA should not deal with them directly, bypassing the state government.
It wants to continue with the old system under which the state`s chief wildlife warden is a signatory to the document.
The state`s reluctance to sign the pact has also drawn flak from environmentalists who fear that in the absence of central-sponsored funds, the state might lose its tag of a "tiger state".
The state government has sought about Rs 3,200 crore for relocation of 117 villages situated inside the six reserves.
However, State Additional Chief Secretary (Forest) Prashant Mehta justified the state`s decision saying under the existing bilateral pact, the state chief wildlife warden was already responsible for tiger management.
"Nevertheless, we are open to the talks. We have suggested a bilateral pact between the centre and the state; the chief wildlife warden can sign an individual agreement with the director of reserves on tiger conservation," Mehta adds.
The issue of signing the tripartite MoU has come up for discussion with the central Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh at least twice in the past two months.
With its tiger numbers dwindling alarmingly, the state government has decided to deploy a Special Tiger Protection Force in its three tiger reserves of Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench.
Madhya Pradesh Minister of State for Forests Rajendra Shukla has instructed departmental officers to expedite the constitution of the Special Tiger Protection Force, which will work under the control and guidance of the tiger reserve`s field director who will send a monthly report about it to the NTCA.
The cops will be exclusively for tiger protection and be empowered to use firearms in dealing with poachers and organised criminals within the periphery of the reserves.
Officers of the state police department and central forces will impart training to the constables on skill development, dealing with poaching and acting on information.
India is estimated to have around 1,400 tigers.