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NOV. 19, 2006
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Rural-Urban Divide
The rural-urban divide continues despite a high growth rate. According to the 61st round of the National Sample Survey, apart from rural-urban wage differentials, gender differentials are very much a part of the present-day Indian economy. The urban regular wage earner earned Rs 194 a day, which was one-and-a-half times the rural average of Rs 134 a day in 2004-05. Interestingly, the wage gap is most pronounced among graduates. An analysis.

The Asian Agenda
Is a region-wide free-trade area a realistic goal? So far, 183 free trade agreements have either been signed or are being proposed or negotiated across Asia. The share of intra-regional trade has risen to about 55 per cent last year from 40 per cent in the early 1990s. Aside from trade in goods, there is a need to focus on free trade in services. Given the stalled WTO talks, it is vital for Asian countries to pursue further market opening and structural reforms.
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Business Today,  November 5, 2006
On The Trail Of The Tiger

Parliament has passed an Act constituting a National Tiger Authority and a Wildlife Crime Bureau. Is it enough to save the king of the Indian jungle?





There were, it is estimated, 100,000 wild tigers in India at the beginning of the 20th century. A hundred and six years later, that number has dwindled to 1,500-1,800.

Will the tiger survive? And, can legislative fiat change the alarming situation on the ground? The government has at last pushed the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act 2006 through Parliament to give teeth to Project Tiger and tiger conservation, but the general feeling is that it is too little too late. Worldwide, there are already more tigers in captivity (there are 15,000 captive tigers in the us alone) than in the wild. The question is: what can be done to save the latter from extinction?

Says Valmik Thapar, Director, Ranthambore Foundation, a conservation organisation: "This new law proposes a National Tiger Authority, which will have representatives of tribals. What does this mean? The interests of tiger and its habitat will be increasingly ceded to human communities. The government wants 'peaceful coexistence between men and tigers'. The reality is that tigers and humans can't live together."

But officials and former officials are quick to jump to the defence of the government. "It's only because of Project Tiger that the tiger is still surviving in India. Look at Bhutan, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Myanmar and other countries where the wild tiger is almost extinct," says P.K. Sen, former Director of Project Tiger and outgoing director of World Wildlife Fund's Species Programme.

That's really a disingenuous argument. Experts say that Project Tiger, though very successful initially, has lost its way. Belinda Wright, Executive Director, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) says: "When it was set up, Project Tiger was the most tenacious wildlife conservation programme of its kind in the world. It was extraordinarily successful in protecting tiger habitat and the big cat itself. But new threats were emerging. In the 1980s, for example, China ran out of its own supply of wild tigers that fed its traditional medicine market and India became the new source of supply. This illegal China-India trade in tiger skins and parts has since become the biggest threat to the Indian tiger." Thapar agrees. "There is no doubt that Project Tiger was quite successful in protecting tigers initially; in 1989, our wild tiger population was a healthy 4,000. But since then, Project Tiger has gone downhill," he says. Sen puts the population of wild tigers in India at 1,500 and Wright at a marginally more optimistic 1,800; but those are still less than half the 1989 figure. But why should that be surprising when 250 tigers are poached ever year?

A detailed investigation by WPSI has shown that smugglers are using the ancient silk route between India and China to conduct their illegal business. Lhasa, in Tibet, is the primary destination and distribution point for tiger skins and other parts. The trade has also become more organised and sophisticated. In 1999, for example, three tiger skins, 50 leopard skins and five otter skins were seized in Ghaziabad; the paper-thin tanning and the precise folding of the skins indicated a level of organisation that had not been seen before. There are credible reports that tiger carcasses, pelts and parts are sold openly in the Tibetan capital while Chinese officials benignly look the other way.

It's scary. The Bali, Javan, and Caspian tiger sub-species have become extinct-all in the last 70-75 years. There remain five surviving sub-species of tigers:

Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)

Male Bengal tigers, on average, measure 2.9 metres from head to tail and weigh about 220 kg. Females are smaller, measuring about 2.5 metres in length and weighing approximately 140 kg. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are 3,100-4,700 surviving Bengal tigers; of this, 333 live in captivity in zoos across the world. Their natural habitat: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Myanmar. The White Tiger is an albino Bengal Tiger.

Amur Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica)

Amur tigers, also known as Siberian or Manchurian tigers, are the largest of the tiger sub-species. Males can grow up to 3.3 metres and weigh up to 300 kg. Females are about 2.6 metres in length and weigh 100-167 kg. The WWF estimates that 360-406 such tigers still exist in eastern Russia, northeastern China and North Korea. Another 490 can be found in various zoos across the world.

IndoChinese Tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti)

Male Indo-Chinese tigers measure 2.7 metres from head to tail and weigh about 180 kg. Females are 2.4 metres in length and weigh about 115 kg. According to WWF, there are about 1,200-1,800 Indo-Chinese tigers left in the wild, mainly in Myanmar, southern China, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and peninsular Malaysia. Another 60 such tigers can be found in zoos in the US and Asia.

Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae)

The Sumatran tiger is the smallest of all tigers. Males measure about 2.4 metre from head to tail and weigh about 120 kg. Females measure approximately 2.2 metre and weigh about 90 kg. WWF believes that about 400 of these tigers still exist in Sumatra, and another 210 live in zoos across the world.

South China Tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis)

The South China tiger is only marginally bigger than its Sumatran cousin. Males are about 2.5 metre in length and weigh approximately 150 kg. Females are smaller, measuring about 2.3 metre in length and weighing approximately 110 kg. WWF estimates that only 20-30 South China tigers still exist in the wild in central and eastern China. Another 47 South China tigers live in Chinese zoos.

"Through the 1980s and 1990s, the threat of poaching and smuggling was turning the tide against Project Tiger. But the authorities did not do anything to change and adapt the project to face these new threats," says Wright. The government's attitude, in fact, ranges from the uninterested to the callous. Last September, for example, there was a large seizure of tiger skins in Melghat (Maharashtra). "The police told us later that no one from the government even bothered to contact them. No one cares," she adds.

So, what ails Project Tiger? Bureaucratic sloth, corruption and the lack of political will to take on illegal wildlife trade though India is a signatory to cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). The Centre's role under the Project Tiger is limited to making recommendations and releasing funds to various state governments. And, as the example of Sariska (where the tiger population was found to be extinct, despite officials' claims on the presence of at least 24 big cats) showed, the central government has no way of checking ground level (mostly unreliable, and, shockingly, often deliberately fudged) data provided by state governments. This allows officials to get away, literally, with murder.

Then, there are 10,000 vacancies for forest guards; these are not being filled up. The average age of forest guards is 55; they are poorly trained and use antiquated arms. "The government doesn't fill up these vacancies, doesn't train and equip these guards and doesn't enforce wildlife laws," says Thapar. "So, what else can you expect?"

"In states such as Uttaranchal and Orissa, the fight against wildlife crime takes place only on paper. Besides, the conviction rate of those arrested for such crimes is negligible. And India has not been able to put into place any effective transnational treaties against wildlife crimes, especially with China and Nepal," says Wright.

Sen gives the problem an economic perspective. "At a broader level, one of the factors militating against Indian efforts to protect its forests and wildlife is that the country's economic development has left its interiors untouched. While urban India has been growing wealthier over the years, absolutely nothing has changed in the interiors, where forests support both wildlife and the local populations. So, a growing, and increasingly impoverished, human population is eating up the forests where tigers live."

WPSI's assessment shows that Sariska may not be an isolated case. Tigers in Palmau (Jharkhand), Valmiki (Bihar), Simlipal (Orissa), Nagarjuna Sagar (Andhra Pradesh), Indrawati (Chhattisgarh), Namdapha (Arunachal Pradesh), Buxa (West Bengal), Manas (Assam), and Melghat (Maharashtra) are also on the verge of extinction. Panna (Madhya Pradesh) is also threatened, but the situation there is still debatable. Incidentally, the government has not released any tiger census figures since 2002. In 2005, it started work on a new methodology for counting tigers, but the data won't come into the public domain for another year. "By the time the new count comes out, won't it be too late?" asks Wright.

Rajesh Gopal, Director, Project Tiger, brushes aside all criticisms. "Project Tiger has put the big cat on the assured path of recovery and despite what the doomsayers say, this project will not let the wild tiger die," he says, adding that addressing the needs of forest communities is critical to the success of conservation efforts. "If the forest communities are alienated, poaching will only become more serious as they will help the poachers. Sariska has awakened us to the dangers of making a tiger reserve an isolated fortress. The stark reality is that Project Tiger will not be successful without involving the forest communities," he says.

Can tiger farming help? Thapar dismisses it out of hand. "The idea of tiger farming has nothing to do with conservation. It is a stupid idea that talks of supply and demand (of body parts)," he says. Cost is also a factor. Breeding captive tigers is expensive and time consuming. Hence, poaching will remain a viable financial option in the foreseeable future. "I'm afraid, we may soon lose the battle unless something drastic is done," says Wright.

Is there, then no hope for the king of the Indian jungle? The new National Tiger Authority will facilitate and support tiger reserve management in the states, while the Wildlife Crime Bureau, a statutory body on the lines of the Narcotics Control Bureau and the Criminal Bureau of Investigation, will collect intelligence on and investigate all wildlife-related crimes. Will this help? Given the political dimensions to the problem of balancing tribal and tiger rights, there is little reason to believe that the battle to save the tiger is truly being joined.




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