People like us who are uninitiated and unversed in matters relating eco-system services rendered by tiger reserves could not have imagined that a detailed study as conducted by an Indo-Australian team would throw up such astounding results in regard to the benefits that accrue by saving tigers in their natural habitat. The Indo-Australian study team was headed by the distinguished professor Dr. Madhu Verma who is in the faculty of the renowned Indian Institute of Forest Management located in Bhopal. Perhaps the babus who work the environment or wildlife wings of various governments too would have been unaware of the facts that have come to light now as a result of the study.
Yes, we knew that saving tigers would mean saving forests and thereby protecting the environment and bio-diversity. Wherever forests have been cleared the tigers too have disappeared from there. No wonder, the numbers of tigers have fallen to 2000-odd in 2014 from around 40000 at the beginning of the last century. There was massive cutting down of forests during the last century after independence to create farmlands in order to cope with the prevailing food shortages. Perhaps the Himalayan terais, the happy hunting ground of Jim Corbett, were the worst sufferers. With the disappearance of terai forests, tigers too disappeared barring in the sanctuaries that were created later for them. Similar efforts to bring large tracts of forests under the plough in the south, too, sounded the death knell for tigers, particularly in the Western Ghats, except in small pockets.
Unfortunately, earlier there was very little concern for environment and wildlife in the functioning of the governments. Later, when the precipitous fall was observed in tiger numbers it was Mrs. Indira Gandhi who launched the Project tiger in a bid to save whatever numbers possible. Thanks to the Project, the numbers rose from a low of around 1100 to the 2000-odd tigers that are now confined within several forested reserves that have been created for them.
Even these are frequently under threat from poachers who make a large amount of money from its various body parts. It used to be said that a dead tiger is more valuable than the ones that prowl around the forests. But obviously, as it has now emerged from the new research, the tiger is far more valuable when alive than when it is dead.
The other threat it faces is from governments’ plans for development. Jairam Ramesh, an MIT-trained politician, had proposed when he was Minister of Environment, “go” and “no-go” areas for developmental activities in forested lands. Certain thick and pristine forests that were lush with vegetation and brimming over with wildlife were marked by him as “no go” forests where in no case, as against the “go” areas, land could be allotted for developmental activities. Because of his stiff opposition to exploiting forest lands for development various proposals for mining and industry suffered delay. The government of Manmohan Singh, an acclaimed economist, curiously found Ramesh’s continuance as untenable and he was moved out of the Environment Ministry. And, soon the government dismantled the concept of “no-go” areas in the interest of the development lobby.
It is the tiger’s misfortune that the forests in which he roams about are rich in minerals, especially coal, that are deeply embedded underneath – all the goodies that create wealth. Every government covets them for that dreadful word “development”. Contextually, therefore, the Indo-Australian study for valuation of the tiger and the eco-system services its reserves render is timely and propitious. Tigers’ habitat is under constant threat, humans being self-willed and self-inclined in this Anthropocene Epoch think of nothing else except their own well-being. Hence, unless monetary values are attached to the tangible and intangible benefits offered by preservation of the tiger and his habitat the authorities may never wake up to the need to hold them dear and preserve them for the community’s well-being.
In early 2015 a report of another study of economic valuation of six tiger reserves conducted by the Indian Institute of Forest Management revealed that these reserves were worth 1,49, 000 crore (US $93 billion app. at current rate of exchange) but generate only 5% annually of what they are worth. The tiger reserves surveyed were Corbett, Kanha, Kaziranga, Periyar, Ranthambore and Sunderbans. While calculating the economic value the experts took into account the range of their eco-system services which included, inter alia, water provisioning, gene pool protection, carbon storage and sequestration. The basic idea of the study seems to have been to encourage the governments to enhance their investments in such forests to ensure the well-being of people by harvesting the benefits of their eco-system services.
The latest research, on the other hand, seems to have been focused on the economic value of a tiger in its natural habitat. The same reserves were taken up for the study but the focus was on the value of each tiger. The Indo-Australian team has come up with a finding that is earth-shattering in at least in one way – that of the values that have been estimated for tiger.
They have calculated that saving two tigers gives more value than the cost of India’s Mangalayan Mission (Mars Mission). While the Mission cost Rs. 450 crore (app. $70 billion) saving two tigers gives a capital benefit of Rs. 520 crore (a little more than $80 billion). As India is home to 2226 adult tigers (according to 2014 tiger census) the capital benefit for country would be Rs. 5.7 lakh crore – an astronomical sum.
According to them, therefore, saving tigers makes good economic sense. The six tiger reserves that they took up for study gives the country a secure capital of $230 billion and we have 50 such reserves that will give an astronomical value in stock capital for the country. All this capital flows out of the eco-system services that the tigers and the reserves they roam around in render. Yet, as Mrs. Madhu Verma, the leader of the team said, “We still do not have adequate information or understanding of eco-systems, all the species and the various ways in which these enhance human well-being that we can estimate a value for each of them”. The embedded meaning is, therefore, un-assessed stock value could take it much higher than what has been estimated.
Mrs Madhu Verma, perhaps, rightly says that “Ignorance of such values influences public policies decisions including investments and funding that may impact their protection status with serious implications on human well-being”. The study, thus, tried to give a huge nudge to the government of India to allocate more funds for the tiger reserves to ensure healthy eco-systems in them so that flora and fauna prosper and multiply therein.
It has also been indicated that only 2.3% of the geographical area of the country is covered by the tiger reserves. Perhaps, instead of slicing away parts of these forests for developmental purposes like the Ken-Betwa Rivers linking project, there is need of increasing the area under such forests to enhance the gains for the countrymen from their tangible and intangible benefits.
Hopefully, the government at the national level will pay enough heed to the results of this study and initiate appropriate action for more investments in tiger reserves for their better management. Let this study not be shelved to gather dust in the record rooms of the ministry concerned, like what happened with Mrs. Verma’s report on economic valuation of the Upper Lake of Bhopal conducted under the aegis of the World Bank around a couple of decades ago. Had the report been acted upon seriously, perhaps, the Lake would not have come to such a sorry pass.