Project Tiger was launched on April 1, 1973 to conserve tigers in their wild habitats by designating certain areas of nearby national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserve forests as “Tiger Reserves” that can support minimum tiger populations long-term.
An estimate of the tiger population in India in the 20th century was placed the figure at 40,000. The first all India tiger census conducted in 1972 revealed the existence of only 1,827 tigers. Various pressures had led to progressive decline of wilderness, disturbing viable tiger habitats. At the 1969 IUCN General Assembly meeting in Delhi, serious concerns were raised about threats to several wildlife species and shrinking habitats. In 1970, a national ban on tiger hunting was imposed and the Wildlife Protection Act came into force in 1972. A ‘Task Force’ formulated Project Tiger, an ecological approach to tiger conservation.
Represented by nearby national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserve forests, each tiger reserve was conceptualized on a ‘core-buffer’ strategy. Each tiger reserve has two areas viz. Core area (Critical Area) and Buffer Area. Core area is kept as inviolate as possible, without affecting the rights of the Scheduled Tribes or such other forest dwellers. Buffer Area is peripheral to the Core area. It has lesser degree of habitat protection and promotes co-existence between wildlife and human activity.
Core areas were freed from human activities while buffer areas allowed conservation-oriented land use.
Management plans were made for each reserve based on:
- Eliminating human exploitation from core areas and regulating buffer area activities.
- Restricting habitat management for ecosystem recovery to its natural state.
- Monitoring faunal-floral changes and wildlife research.
Gram Sabha is consulted in management of buffer areas.
Alternation of Boundaries of Tiger Reserves
The alternation of boundaries of Tiger Reserves is done via notification by state governments. Prior approval of NTCA and National Board for Wildlife is needed. Kindly note that the State Government has power to de-notify a tiger reserve in public interest but only with the prior approval of the Tiger Conservation Authority and the National Board for Wildlife.
National Tiger Conservation Authority
National Tiger Conservation Authority was launched in 2005, following recommendations of the Tiger Task Force. It was given statutory status by 2006 amendment of the Wildlife Protection Act.
Structure of NTCA
Environment Minister is the Chairman of the NTCA. Below chairman are eight experts or professionals having qualifications and experience in wildlife conservation and welfare of people including tribals, apart from three Members of Parliament (1 Rajya Sabha, 2 Lok Sabha). The Inspector General of Forests, in charge of project Tiger, serves as ex-officio Member Secretary.
NTCA is the overarching body for conservation of tigers in India. Its main administrative function is to approve the Tiger Conservation Plan prepared by the State Governments and then evaluate and assess various aspects of sustainable ecology and disallow any ecologically unsustainable land use such as, mining, industry and other projects within the tiger reserves.
As per the WLPA, every State Government has the authority to notify an area as a tiger reserve. However, the Tiger Conservation Plans sent by state government need to be approved by the NTCA first. Alternatively, Central Government via NTCA may advise the state governments to forward a proposal for creation of Tiger Reserves.
Every year, the Central Government puts the annual report of the National Tiger Conservation Authority in each House of Parliament. Other Functions of NTCA are as follows:
- Regulation and standardization of tourism activities
- Provide for management focus and measures for addressing conflicts of men and wild animals.
- Provide information on protection measures.
- Ensure that the tiger reserves and areas linking one protected area or tiger reserve with another protected area or tiger reserve are not diverted for ecologically unsustainable uses, except in public interest and with the approval of the National Board for Wild Lifeand on the advice of the Tiger Conservation Authority.
- Facilitate and support the tiger reserve management in the State.
- Ensure critical support including scientific, information technology and legal support for better implementation of the tiger conservation plan.
Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF)
This is a Centrally sponsored scheme in which the central government provides 100% financial assistance to the states for raising, arming and deploying the STPF in sensitive tiger reserves. Karnataka was the first state to raise a STPF.
The scheme was fully Central Government funded till 1979-1980, later becoming equally State and Centre funded from 1980-1981 onward.
Number of Tiger Reserves
Initially 9 tiger reserves covered 13,017 sq.km in different states from 1973-1974, pooling Central and State Government resources. As of 2024, India has 55 tiger reserves across 18 states. The reserves cover around 75,000 sq km, which is nearly 2.21% of India’s geographical area.