When Forest Minister Vishwajit Rane spoke of appealing against the High Court order directing the Goa government to declare the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary a tiger reserve, his move was on expected lines.
His attempt to assert that Goa's size does not merit it a tiger reserve status, tells us that Rane's intelligence on the forest front is more likely buried under his bloated ego, which defies all scientific logic and reasoning.
Even a child could figure out that saving the tiger means saving our forests, and this in return would ensure the health of Goa's forest ecosystem is maintained. But for our dear Mr Rane, the tiger is just a visitor.
The way our ambitious forest minister has been continuously saying no to a tiger reserve gives one the impression that he is guarding the interests of a few and not that of the entirety of Goa.
The origin of the current situation can be rightly attributed to successive governments as they did nothing to resettle people from the notified wildlife sanctuaries. Most of these people are in the Sattari taluka where the Ranes hold sway.
Since 2011, the Centre and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) have repeatedly pursued the issue of notifying the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary and certain other contiguous areas as a tiger reserve.
However, the Goa government refused to budge.
The NTCA’s repeated recommendations were binding on the Goa government as per the Wildlife Protection Act, but the latter refused to comply, even when proposals and plans for notifying the tiger reserve were ready.
The state's continuous refusal to budge on notifying the tiger reserve led to the death of four tigers in the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary. The animals were poisoned, an apparent fallout of man-animal conflict.
Let us not forget that the tiger holds sway in the forest being on top of the food chain and defines the health of an entire ecosystem. We are lucky we still have tigers. Their absence will mean no protection for the ecosystem.
The issue of the tiger reserve has become a political one in Goa with the Congress party now criticising Rane, but the former, too, did nothing in this matter.
The Goa government headed by the then Congress chief minister Digambar Kamat never paid heed to a letter written by the erstwhile Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh requesting the state government to declare Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary a tiger reserve.
For about five years, absolutely nothing was done by the Goa government regarding the Union Environment Minister’s letter.
After this, the NTCA in 2016 wrote to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) & Chief Wildlife Warden, Goa, to notify Cotigao-Mhadei forest complex in Goa as a tiger reserve.
Poriem MLA Deviya Rane told a section of the media that the formation of the tiger reserve will affect 15,000 people, and her BJP government will find a different solution to the issue. If that's the case, why did the state not solve the issue for all these years?
The fact is both Vishwajit and Deviya have no solution, because the government was all for a tiger reserve in 2016.
No objections were raised against the NTCA’s recommendation for the constitution of the tiger reserve. So, what has changed now over the years?
Now, coming to the question of whether tigers and humans can co-exist in Goa, the answer to this is not very encouraging.
In January 2020, four tigers were poisoned to death at Golaulim in Sattari, in the vicinity of the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary. The deaths were the result of repeated attacks by the big cats on the cattle of a family living in Golaulim.
This in itself shows that the tigers need protection, and for the interests of a few thousand people, the government cannot ignore the welfare of lakhs. If not a tiger reserve, then what is the next best solution?
In this monsoon session, the government, more so Forest Minister Vishwajit Rane, will have to spell out his strategy, not to the opposition, which did nothing in the matter as well, but to the people of Goa. The tiger is alive and kicking in Goa's forests. Let us not be dead to its cause.