January 8, 2012
Forest Dept says that the Centre has agreed to fund the force for the first five years
A special force to protect the tiger is on the anvil for Maharashtra. For starters, the state forest department will post trained personnel at two tiger reserves - at national parks in Vidarbha's Pench and Tadoba.
The last tiger census has pegged the state's tiger population to 140. Presently, the state has a one-man anti-poaching cell in Nagpur.
Wildlife activists have expressed concern over India's dwindling tiger population. In 2011, 61 tiger deaths were reported across India, including poaching deaths, according to the Wildlife Protection Society of India. A year earlier, the number stood at 58.
In 1972, the Government of India enacted the Wildlife (Protection) Act to control poaching and illegal trade in wildlife. The act was amended in 2003, making punishment and penalty for offences more stringent.
Principal Secretary of the state forest department Praveen Pardeshi said that the tiger protection force will be fashioned along the lines of police crack teams. "The personnel will be trained by commando forces. They will be taught to detect poaching crimes," said Pardeshi.
Forest Department officials said that the Centre had agreed to fund the force for the first five years. This triggered apprehension in the state finance department as to the source of future funding.
Pardeshi, who got the proposal approved by state chief secretary Ratnakar Gaikwad, said that the state has decided to maintain the force after the first five years.
"Initially, we will have two battalions with 90 men and 20 officers, each headed by an officer," said Pardeshi. "It will target poachers in sensitive areas."
Forest officials said that, for the last few years, gangs of poachers from Bahelia tribal community camp in villages along the eastern border of the state where the tiger reserves are situated.
Wildlife expert Kishor Rithe of the Satpuda Foundation said that they had been seeking secret funds for forest employees to detect poaching rackets like the police have to crack gangs.
"A forest officer has to have means to procure information on poachers," said Rithe, adding that the secret fund has been sanctioned. The special force will file cases in court against poachers. "This is a major milestone achieved," said Rithe.