PANAJI: Goa forest minister Vishwajit Rane on Friday rejected demands for notifying a tiger reserve in the state, insisting that the state does not have resident tigers and he won’t allow any move to upgrade Goa’s Mhadei wildlife sanctuary to a full-fledged tiger reserve.
“As long as I am minister, there is no question of a tiger reserve. I have been hearing about tiger, tiger, tiger, tiger for the last few days. The tiger enters Goa through a corridor before exiting (the state). There are no resident tigers,” the minister said.
The Mhadei sanctuary falls in Goa’s Sattari taluka which is spread over two constituencies, Valpoi and Poriem assembly segments which are represented by Vishwajit Rane and his wife Deviya Rane. The sanctuary is a contiguous tiger landscape with tiger areas in Karnataka.
“Tigers have a natural corridor, which is developed. The tigers coming into Goa come through a corridor in Karnataka. We have not found a resident tiger in Goa. The information I have sourced from the forest department indicates that the tigers come in from Karnataka along the Mollem border, the Western Ghats serve as a natural corridor and they exit,” he said.
To be sure, Rane isn’t the first Goa politician to oppose calls for a tiger reserve in Goa. The Mhadei region — half of which has been damaged by mining — has rich ore reserves and notifying it as a tiger reserve will seal any possibility of mining in the area. When the then union environment minister Jairam Ramesh proposed a tiger reserve in Goa back in 2011, the Congress-ruled Digambar Kamat government also responded that there wasn’t enough evidence that Mhadei was home to tigers on a permanent basis.
Environmentalist and member of the Goa Wildlife Board Rajendra Kerkar said that Rane’s comments smacked of ‘ignorance’ and betrayed a lack of understanding of Goa’s wildlife and ecosystems in general.
“I’m not trying to make a case for a tiger reserve, but whether it’s a reserve or not, the tiger needs to be protected. This can be done without affecting the people who live in and around the wildlife sanctuaries and even without curtailing agricultural activities. A tiger is a flagship species and if we protect the tiger, we are protecting the entire Western Ghats ecosystem which is the source of our water,” Rajendra Kerkar, said.
The Save Mollem activist group too expressed concern over the minister’s ‘attitude towards the environment.
“What is concerning is that the minister for forests cannot see the tremendous value of Goa’s protected areas for the long-term conservation of the tiger. These forests have been identified by the NTCA as one of 32 important tiger corridors in India, making their protection a priority,” said Amche Mollem Campaign’s response to Vishwajit Rane.
Vishwajit Rane responded to his critics on Saturday. “A lot of these people who make these statements, you should go back and check their overall contribution to the state of Goa,” Rane said in a recorded video shared with the media.
“I want to ask these environmentalists. How many times have you read a statement or a study to tell us how forest management has to take place? I am going to do this very professionally. I don’t require environmentalists or NGOS to come and advise me,” Rane said.
According to a recent enumeration exercise by the Goa Forest Department, Goa has five resident tigers that have been intermittently detected on camera traps. Recently, the forest department issued a notice warning of the presence of a tiger in the areas surrounding the Mollem wildlife sanctuary.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority also recommended setting up a tiger sanctuary at the Mhadei wildlife sanctuary after the death of four tigers in 2019 in the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary.
“The protected areas of Goa (Mhadei and Mollem) are part of the Western Ghats landscape complex which has the unique distinction of having the world’s largest tiger population. This landscape has several interconnected tiger reserves and protected areas along with reserve forests. However, factors like plantations, agriculture, industrial and infrastructure development activities like widening of roads and railway lines are threatening the existing habitat connectivity in the Western Ghats. Without upgrading the legal status of Goa’s protected areas to that of a tiger reserve and putting in place a strong protection regime in place, the state may become a death trap for tigers dispersing in this landscape,” the NTCA noted in a report submitted in February 2020.