What is at the heart of India’s growth story? A plethora of economic theories would say it is our urban spaces: If the country must realise its potential and achieve the $5-trillion economy goal, rapid urbanisation must propel development. But what if someone says it is the country’s tiger reserves that serve the economy like no other sector? A recent study that attempted to quantify economic services and benefits that tiger reserves produce should settle the issue.
The “Economic Valuation of Tiger Reserves in India” by the Indian Institute of Forest Management and the National Tiger Conservation Authority, which evaluated 10 tiger reserves in the second phase of its study, has come up with astonishing outcomes. For example, every rupee spent on the Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve in Telangana realises `7,488. Which other sector has such an investment multiplier potential! In fact, the total monetary value of benefits provided by all 10 tiger reserves is estimated to range from `5,094 crore to `16,202 crore.
In the current economic scenario, when manufacturing and industry drive the economic growth and sustainability narrative, talking about the stellar role that tiger reserves play in serving India and its population may sound silly to some. But the truth is ecosystem services provided by the tiger reserves are invaluable. Employment generation, water conservation, sedimentation control, natural flood management and climate resilience are intangible benefits that must be valued and not just in economic terms.
The study shows that the collective human health benefit offered by the reserves is estimated to be in the range of `11,014 crore to `34,593 crore a year. They offer protection from disease, predators and parasites, which when valued could go up to `24.15 crore. Most of India’s major cities would struggle for water but for these tiger reserves. Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar rightly termed the reserves as engines of economic growth. Nonetheless, the environment versus development debate continues in India. Perhaps it’s time the investment multiplier theory of tiger reserves finds a place in management classes.