Chhattisgarh becoming graveyard for wildlife

Chhattisgarh, the third-most forested State of the country after Madhya Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh, having 41.33% geographical area under forest cover is witnessing mysterious disappearance of leopards and tigers. An exclusive report by Anil Dwivedi

On one side so called new jungle safaris are being built while on the other hand sanctuaries are being destroyed. The number of animals and trees is coming down as per data collected from various sources.

The government’s admission is that there were once 46 tigers in the state at one time, but now only 19 are left. In 10 years, about 51 leopards also disappeared. Surprised that 800 crores of rupees were lost!

The biggest difference between a human being and an animal is logic and prudence, such is the legend. A video explaining it best went viral recently.

An elephant came in front of some trucks passing through the area of Kaziranga. The animal did not harm anyone but stopped the truck to search for something. Finding nothing, the elephant allowed to pass through. This drama continued till the elephant found sugarcane in one of the trucks. Satisfied, the elephant took his pick and allowed the truck and its occupants to cross without any harm.

However, human beings are no elephants. They have greed and try to loot and making a killing on whatever comes their way. Chhattisgarh is an apt example of this as the state has become a cemetary of wildlife with dozens of cases of poaching in the state while animals in the sanctuaries are dying of thirst.

A few days ago, an elephant died when trapped in a swamp in the Kendai Forest Range of Korba forest area distracts, raising question mark over the ill-prepardness of the forest department.

Villagers say that the elephant died due to cold and being trapped in the marsh for 40 hours. The forest department when contacted made lame excuse that they “had tried to save the elephant by putting two JCBs, but due to the arrival of elephant teams, the rescue had to be stopped in the middle”.

Now a three-member investigation team has been formed under Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Wildlife SK Singh, who will submit the investigation report within 15 days.

More than 15 wildlife animals have died in the last five months. Shankari, the world’s tallest tigress, has already died due to the alleged negligence of the authorities. Just a few months ago, a tiger named Bali also died. Six months ago, a leopard died due to the cold in Maitri Bagh in Bhilai known for its street plant.

In February 2019, a leopard’s body was found in Lamer. Death of two wild bears in Surajpur district, death of a Hippotamus in the zoo in Bilaspur, death of Asia’s oldest tigress in Durg, death of an elephant in Pratappur, death of elephant due to swamp in Korba are indicators to what is happening in Chhatisgarh. So far only five smugglers have been arrested with the skin of seven leopards.

In the new capital, the government has claimed to build Asia’s largest jungle safari spread over 326 hectares at a cost of 280 crores. On the other hand, natural sanctuaries are becoming victims of government negligence, corruption and poachers.

If you are coming to Chhattisgarh as a tourist to have a look at the wildlife you may be in for disappointment because tigers have become almost extinct from the forests. The statistics of the department are revealing how serious the forest department of Chhattisgarh is regarding the protection of tigers.

Statistics of Wild Animal and poaching database of Chhattisgarh show that 17 tiger skins have been recovered in the state in the last 4 years. Obviously, these skins will either be from Chhattisgarh or the Tiger Reserve built in the touching boundaries of Chhattisgarh.

It is shocking that Kanker is the name of the largest hideout of hunters in the Mufid forest division, which is considered to be the home area of Chief Conservator of Forests Rakesh Chaturvedi.

As many as 5 out of 17 tiger skins were found only from Kanker Forest Division. RTI activist Nitin Singhvi wrote a letter to the member secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority to get a detailed investigation done. Questioning the recovery of such a large number of tiger and leopard skins, Singhvi said that if tigers and leopards were not hunted, from where did their skins come from? Singhvi claims that on natural death of tigers and leopards, their corpses cannot be removed in good condition because of rottenness. Therefore, tigers and leopards are hunted.

In the last assembly session itself, the state forest minister Mohammad Akbar confessed that more than 34 crores had been spent on the observation of tigers within four years in 2015-2019. Amazingly, the amount kept increasing but the number of tigers kept decreasing. According to the Forest Minister, in comparison to 26 tigers in 2006, only 19 tigers were left till 2019, whereas in 2014 there were confirmed to be 46 tigers in the state. That is, 27 tigers disappeared in just five years.

The villagers have confirmed the sighting of a tiger in Gurur forest adjoining Dhamtari and Rajnandgaon a night before this news was written.

The state’s sanctuaries are no longer safe for leopards as compared to tigers, especially in the Udanti Sitanadi Tiger Reserve, leopard hunting continues indiscriminately. In the last 10 years, about 51 leopard skins have been recovered that is on an average 5 leopards were killed every year. Action is being taken under the Forest Animals Act and last month 7 smugglers were caught with leopard skins in Geedam area of Bastar.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Atul Kumar Shukla, while confirming the poaching, told that 7 accused have been arrested while including four leopard skins have been confiscated in the big Kerala village on Bijapur Road.

After the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) report, the Forest Department started the investigation and shockingly found that “some CRPF personnel posted in Udanti-Sitanadi Tiger Reserve are hunting wild animals including shooting and killing of a wild bear. Months ago, there were allegations of killing of a dragon in Dornapal of Bastar”.

However, CRPF spokesman Moses Dinakaran dismissed these allegations outright. He called it an act of self-defense.

Confirming this, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, IFS Rakesh Chaturvedi said that CRPF personnel have been accused of hunting, but the jawans told that they fired in self-defense. Chaturvedi said that there is no evidence to take immediate action, so orders have been given for investigation.

However, forest minister Mohammad Akbar is serious about stopping hunting of wildlife and he has suspended three officers of assistant director level. Akbar says, whoever is the culprit for hunting or allowing wildlife, will not be spared, no matter how connected the person is. He sdaid that the government will take strict action in this matter so that poachers and illegal smuggling can be stopped.

As for as funds are concerned, there is no shortage of funds with the Forest Department for protection of wildlife. The Forest Department received close to 400 crores last year and another 400 crores this year but it remains unutilised till date. Now this amount of 800 crores will have to be utilized by April, 2020. While there are funds, the proposed Elephant Corridor is still stuck. Is anybody listening?