Madhya Pradesh, which has recorded the maximum number of tiger deaths in India since 2012, is yet to get a Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) as advised by the Centre 10 years ago.
India has lost 1,059 tigers since 2012 with Madhya Pradesh, which is known as the 'tiger state' of the country, recording the highest number of deaths (270) according to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
In the 2018 Tiger Census, the state had emerged as the 'tiger state' of India with 526 tigers, followed by Karnataka which had 524 tigers.
Madhya Pradesh, which has six tiger reserves, has logged 27 tiger deaths this year so far. Last year, it lost 41 striped felines.
The NTCA had in 2009-10 advised important tiger states to recruit and train special police personnel for patrolling the forests to safeguard tigers.
The STPF has since been made operational in the states of Karnataka (Bandipur), Maharashtra (Pench, Tadoba-Andhari, Navegaon-Nagzira, Melghat), Rajasthan (Ranthambhore), Odisha (Similipal) and Assam (Kaziranga), with 60 per cent central assistance under the ongoing centrally-sponsored scheme of Project Tiger.
According to a tripartite agreement signed between the Union Environment Ministry, NTCA and Madhya Pradesh in 2012, the state had to raise, arm and deploy the force in its tiger reserves within two years of signing the pact.
The state has since formed a State Tiger Strike Force, smart patrolling and dog-squad for protection of tigers in the national parks but an STPF is yet to become a reality.
However, Madhya Pradesh Chief Wildlife Warden J S Chauhan said the state has a robust tiger protection mechanism in place and the lack of an STPF doesn't make any difference.
"We have not left our tiger reserves unattended even if we do not have an STPF. I do not think we lack anything. The absence of an STPF has not affected our tiger protection efforts at all," he said.
"The decision to have an STPF has to be taken at the state government level," he said when asked about the factors impeding the formation of the force.
The state chief wildlife warden said Madhya Pradesh had a large number of tigers and the number of tiger deaths was also proportional.
"Most of the deaths are due to natural causes, infighting, diseases and old age. There has been no significant rise in unnatural deaths. Every tiger death is being reported as per the protocol laid down by the NTCA. We are not hiding anything," he said.
Wildlife activist Ajay Dubey said Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh have got almost an equal number of tigers according to the 2018 census, yet the former has recorded just 150 deaths since 2012.
"I cannot explain why Karnataka has recorded fewer tiger deaths than Madhya Pradesh," Chauhan said.
According to the NTCA, Maharashtra has recorded 183 tiger deaths, followed by Karnataka (150), Uttarakhand (96), Assam (72), Tamil Nadu (66), Uttar Pradesh (56) and Kerala (55).
Rajasthan, Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh saw 25, 17, 13, 11 and 11 tiger deaths, respectively.