The State Government's move, albeit after almost a month, to appoint senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi to challenge the order of the High Court of Bombay at Goa to notify the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary and its surrounding areas as a tiger reserve was on expected lines.
The government's intent to challenge the order (dated July 24, 2023) means it is not interested in setting up a tiger reserve in Goa and in two months will have to face contempt of court, given that it has been directed to notify the reserve in three months.
According to the recently released Status of Tigers 2022 report of the Central Government, five big cats were recorded in last year's census in Goa, which has armed the environmentalists to press for a tiger reserve in the state with more vigour.
Given the fact that Project Tiger is a national conservation programme since the 70s, it is bewildering to note that a small state like Goa is opposing it and the Centre is patently silent. Also, the Delhi visit of Forest Minister Vishwajit Rane to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah soon after the HC order was passed raises questions.
At a time when Karnataka is all out to divert the River Mhadei’s waters, the HC order has come as a big impediment to the neighbouring state giving shape to its plans.
However, the Goa government (rather some individuals within it) is hell-bent on gifting Mhadei to Karnataka on a platter.
Two days back, Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Prahlad Joshi said that Goa's tiger reserve order is an obstacle in the implementation of the Kalsa-Bhandura water diversion project. However, it appears that Goa doesn't want to take this advantage and deliberately wants to lose the game.
Senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi is the same advocate who represented Goa in the Mhadei water case and has now been appointed by the government to challenge the HC order on tiger reserve.
This is tragic because the same advocate who was appointed to save the Mhadei water diversion will now represent the state to challenge the HC order directing the state to notify the tiger reserve which is so crucial to saving our precious water.
However, legal experts believe that the state doesn't have any strong basis to oppose the tiger reserve, given the fact that the HC judgement was based on the affidavit filed by the Goa government in the matter.
They are certain that the Supreme Court will not entertain the state's appeal, even if that means the HC order will displace 15,000 people living in the forest areas, as arbitrarily claimed by Poriem MLA Deviya Rane.
The Ranes probably know that the government's appeal will not stand, but are just playing out the SC intervention drama to show their constituents that they are with them. In the end, when Goa's appeal in the SC fails to stand, the Ranes will have an excuse to say they did everything to oppose the tiger reserve.
According to Asian Scientist magazine, a study found that tiger conservation prevented forest loss to the tune of over 5,800 hectares across all tiger reserves.
This is equivalent to preventing nearly a million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s not a lot but as an ancillary benefit of protecting tigers, it’s still significant, the study noted.
The Goa government has to realise the issue of tiger conservation is in a way linked to global climate change, given the fact that the protection of big cats is directly linked to the conservation of forest areas.
The government cannot afford to ignore the benefits that will accrue from creating a tiger reserve just to save a few houses and families from being displaced. So, let us all join hands to save the tiger, and, in doing so, save Goa.