As India rejoices the whopping 30 per cent hike in its tiger population, Odisha is a huge letdown. The nation saw its large cats soar in numbers from 1706 in 2010 to 2226 in 2014 but in Odisha, the number has fallen from 32 to 28. The dwindling figures is symptomatic of Odisha’s ill-placed priorities. With focus on industry-driven economic development, the repercussions are vividly evident in losing forests and prime habitats to mining, roads and other human incursion. Tiger population in the state was around 45 in 2006 when the government unfolded its aggressive mineral-based industry promotion strategy.
Naxalite menace has also taken its toll on the forest and wildlife resources. Similipal Tiger Reserve, plundered by Left-wing extremists in 2009, became an open hunting ground for poachers. The reserve has shown revival in the past two years through good management practices and finally clearing human settlements and villages from its core. The same, though, cannot be said about Satkosia, the only other notified reserve where tiger population has almost collapsed, thanks to increasing human interference and unregulated tourism. Instead of securing the reserve, the government last year gave its nod to denotify 159 sqkm from the 795.52 sqkm Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary.
Forests and wildlife are treated as top revenue earners purely due to their tourism potential. Sadly, the realisation is yet to dawn in Odisha. The Naveen Patnaik government has predictably gone after the National Tiger Conservation Authority contesting its report while it should be looking within for what it has lost. As it allowed decimation of forests and wildlife in the name of development, most other states have capitalised on resources over the years. In 2014, Kanha tiger reserve in MP saw over 1.3 lakh tourists. In contrast, the footfall in Similipal was 24,000. It is high time the government prioritised forest and wildlife to unlock the immense tourism potential and maintain the ecological and environmental balance that is intrinsically connected to human development and sustenance.