The new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in tackling man-animal conflicts was necessitated by 2012 being one of the worst years for tigers. A staggering 88 tigers were killed in the past year, the highest in the last 12 years. The last tiger census, in 2010, put the number of tigers at 1,706. At present, there are 39 tiger reserves monitored by the NTCA, which has a budget of nearly Rs 1,300 crore.
The country’s premier tiger protection government body, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), has extended Section 144 of the CrPC to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) developed to tackle man-animal conflicts. Wildlife authorities decided to invoke the British Raj-era penal provision to curb the assembly of mobs around tigers and leopards who stray into human habitations.
The comprehensive SOP - developed to tackle man-animal conflicts - covers the entire range of ‘Dos and Dont’s’ was sent to wildlife authorities across the country on January 30. This set of guidelines recommends that a committee should be set up to monitor situations of man-animal conflicts on a day-to-day basis by taking into account the movement of the strayed tiger, pattern in recent loss of cattle and the identity of the cat. It is only when successive trapping efforts fail that chemical immobilisation through tranquilisers be should used, the SOP says.
The SOP asks wildlife officials to proactively engage with the district administration and police in invoking this section. “This is essential to avoid agitation by excited local people surrounding the animal’s location which hampers capture operation, causing serious injuries to onlookers as well as our staff,” a wildlife expert involved in the drafting of SOP told Express. “As we saw in case of Wayanad, Kaziranga and even Corbett, large mobs collect around such animals. Tigers are shy animals, and tend to attack in panic. And when thousands of people get together, it puts pressure on the wildlife staff,” he said.
Another critical intervention of the SOP is to prevent the easy labelling of a tiger as man-eater. This tag is a death warrant for big cats. Even when a tiger’s killing is sanctioned as the last option, no cash award should be announced, the SOP says. “A differentiation should be made between a human kill because of a chance encounter and those by habituated man-eaters, the SOP says.” Killing a tiger should be last option, it says, asking officers to engage with media so that incidents and operations involving conflicts are not sensationalised.
Section 144, CrPC
A relic from the colonial past when the CrPC was drafted in 1861, Section 144 was extensively used against agitating freedom fighters. It has been a favourite with governments even after Independence as it gives wide powers to magistrates and the police to clamp down on agitators under the pretext of maintaining law and order.