I will concede here that I have always been fascinated by Chhattisgarh largely because of the sheer extent of the pristine & unexplored forests in the state (and hence the possibility of major surprises that they might withhold) and the similarity between Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh in terms of land and culture of these two states.
Now, I have spent my life visiting the forests of Jharkhand (especially Palamau), so I am very confident about my views for the state. But I can't claim the same sense of confidence regarding Chhattisgarh simply because I don’t know Chhattisgarh as well as I do Jharkhand. However, at the time when I was asked to prepare this Agenda, I had recently come-back from my maiden trip to Chhattisgarh’s forests ( where I visited two Sanctuaries viz. Barnawapara Wildlife Sanctuary and Bhoramdeo Wildlife Sanctuary).So after visiting these two Sanctuaries and having exhaustive discussions with the locals and the Forest Staff posted there (the members of the staff hailed from all over the state and hence provided me with knowledgeable insights about the current state of wildlife in their respective districts), I suppose I had a fairly good idea about the state of forests and wildlife (especially Tigers) in Chhattisgarh.
So, I have prepared this "Tiger Agenda" for the state of Chhattisgarh based on the trip I made (and the long discussions that I had with the staff and locals while I was there), what I have read over the years about the state and the similarities between Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand in terms of the culture and the law & order situation (i.e. the Naxal problem).
TIGER AGENDA: CHHATTISGARH
Chhattisgarh is perhaps the least explored state in the mainland of the country with huge swathes of pristine forests that account for 41.32% of the total geographical area of the state, one of the highest in the country. The forests of Chhattisgarh hold the potential for being one of the best Tiger Habitats in the country. However due to the neglect, almost zero research works and decaying law in order situation (especially in South Chhattisgarh which has the best Tiger Habitats), the situation is grave. Here are some of the measures that might help in securing the state’s Tiger population:
1). Just like in Jharkhand, most of the high potential Tiger habitat of Chhattisgarh is under complete Naxal control and as a result no research, plans/schemes can be implemented on ground until and unless their consent is obtained. So a dialogue with the rebels to allow conservation programmes is the first and foremost prerequisite before proceeding any further.
2).The major Tiger habitat of the state i.e. South Chhattisgarh including the forests of Dantewada, Bastar and Kanker have never been documented properly. A proper documentation of the area to assess the population of Tigers, co-predators and prey density is needed
3).Competent & dedicated officers must be posted in Naxal infested areas to increase the morale of the staff.
4) The Indravati Tiger Reserve along with surrounding contiguous forests (straddling over 3-4 districts) make-up roughly 20,000-25,000 sq.km of unexplored pristine forest and one of the best potential Tiger Habitats. Moreover this region has lesser biotic pressure as compared to other Tribal dominated forests. Getting some sort of conservation plan in action in this area after a dialogue with rebels is the most critical step that needs to be taken without delay. The forests of this area might also perhaps have the last remaining pure breed population of Asiatic Wild Buffaloes.
5) Just like in Jharkhand, forest guards in Naxal dominated forests of Chhattisgarh can neither be provided with arms nor can the villages in these areas of the state be rehabilitated. So the Tribals must have a stake in conservation programmes, while department staff must create immense goodwill among locals and build a strong information network to thwart poaching and nab offenders.
6) Now along with working on this Naxal dominated Tiger-Habitat, it’s equally important to work on other good Tiger habitats of the state in central and northern Chhattisgarh that have almost no or a meager Naxal presence.
7) Achanakmar Tiger Reserve (which is linked to Kanha through a corridor) has a resident population of about 10 tigers which can be increased manifolds if proper protection is given to the reserve along with effectively protecting and managing the Kanha-Acanakmar corridor. Another sanctuary, the 220 sq.km Bhoramdeo Wildlife Sanctuary which used to be a buffer for Kanha before the creation of Chhattisgarh currently has 2 Tigers and with effective protection, habitat management and relocation of villages (this area isn’t inhabited by Naxals) it can support a good spillover population from Kanha.
8).Similarly the forests of Surguja(has a corridor connecting it to the Palamau Tiger Reserve, Jharkhand )in the north and Guru-Ghasidas Sanctuary(bordering M.P.) in west have reported tigers. These two areas must also be developed with effective conservation on both sides of the state border.
9). Another important Tiger habitat is the Barnawapara Wildlife Sanctuary that reports 2-3 tigers within the sanctuary and surprisingly has a much higher population of 6-7 individuals outside the sanctuary limits in the surrounding territorial forests. This is a very critical habitat and a proposal to enlarge the area of the sanctuary to include these Tiger inhabited reserve forests is pending for more than 30 years. The notification for enlargement of area must be done without any further delay.
10) And finally the Sitanadi-Udanti Tiger Reserve and Sunabeda(in Orissa) belt that has somewhere around 12-15 Tigers (in both states) is suffering due to neglect as well as Naxal disturbances.