Making a case for the conservation of tiger reserves in India, a study has worked out the monetary value of the reserves and deduced that for every rupee invested, the returns amount to an average of Rs 2,500 per tiger reserve.

A new government study that calculated the economic valuation of 10 of 50 tiger reserves of the country, reveals that for every rupee spent on their management, the reserves provided benefits ranging from lowest of Rs 346.7 to highest of Rs 7,488 within and outside the tiger reserves. Mongabay analysed these benefits for all ten reserves and found that, on average, it translated to Rs 2,500 per rupee for each tiger reserve.

The study looked at tangible and intangible flow benefits that result from investment in tiger reserves, including employment generation, fishing, fodder, fuelwood, carbon sequestration, water provisioning, water purification, sediment retention/soil conservation, nutrient retention, biological control, pollination, gas regulation, climate regulation, gene pool protection, moderation of extreme events, cultural heritage, recreation, spiritual tourism and more.

The study Economic valuation of tiger reserves in India: A value + approach by the Centre for Ecological Services Management of the Indian Institute of Forest Management in collaboration with the National Tiger Conservation Authority analysed the economic valuation of 27 ecosystem services in 10 tiger reserves. These were Anamalai, Tamil Nadu; Bandipur, Karnataka; Dudhwa, Uttar Pradesh; Melghat, Maharashtra; Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam, Andhra Pradesh; Pakke, Arunachal Pradesh; Palamu, Jharkhand; Panna, Madhya Pradesh; Similipal, Odisha and Valmiki, Bihar.

In January 2015, a similar study by the Indian Institute of Forest Management calculated the economic value of six tiger reserves: Corbett, Kanha, Kaziranga, Periyar, Ranthambore and Sundarbans.

At present, there are 50 tiger reserves across 18 states in the country. This report was released along with the All India Tiger Estimation – 2018 and the Management Effectiveness Evaluation of Tiger Reserves 2018 report by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 29. The latest tiger estimation pegged the population of India’s national animal, at 2,967.

To understand the flow benefits of every tiger reserve, the study analysed the monetary amounts released for management of every tiger reserve each year.

Among the 10 tiger reserves analysed, for every rupee spent on management costs in the Melghat tiger reserve per year, flow benefits of Rs 346.7 were realised within and outside the tiger reserve. It was the lowest among the 10 tiger reserves and the highest was for the Nagarjunasagar Srisailam tiger reserve where every rupee spent on management costs resulted in flow benefits of Rs 7,488.6 within and outside the tiger reserve. The monetary value of flow benefits from the 10 reserves ranged from Rs 5,094.91 crore to Rs 16,202.11 crore annually.

The study also found that together these 10 tiger reserves provide annual tangible and intangible benefits worth Rs 596,502.14 crore. A rough calculation shows this is equal to about 17.94% of Rs 33,23,988.66 crore which is the Indian government’s total expenditure through budget and resources of public enterprises for 2019-’20.

Tiger reserves provide tangible benefits such as employment generation, fishing, fodder, fuelwood, bamboo, non-timber forest products. Source: Centre for Ecological Services Management (CESM), Indian Institute of Forest Management, Government of India.
Tiger reserves provide intangible benefits such as carbon sequestration, water provisioning, water purification, climate regulation, gene pool protection, cultural heritage, spiritual tourism and so on. Source: Centre for Ecological Services Management, Indian Institute of Forest Management, Government of India.

The tangible and intangible benefits from these 10 tiger reserves alone per year are over 201 times the environment ministry’s allocated budget of Rs 2,954.72 crore in 2019-’20. Of the Rs 2,954 crore, Rs Rs 350 crore has been allocated for project tiger in this year’s budget.

Factors such as the generation of employment, fodder, timber, fuelwood, non-timber forest produce and bamboo are considered tangible benefits while factors such as carbon sequestration, water provisioning, sediment retention/soil conservation, nutrient retention, biological control, pollination, climate regulation, gene pool protection, habitat for species, carbon storage, cultural heritage, recreation and spiritual tourism are intangible benefits.

To make it simpler to understand, all the benefits from the total of Rs 5.96 lakh crore can’t be realised directly. For instance, the benefits like carbon storage and soil conservation will happen if we just let the forests remain undisturbed. But then there are also benefits like non-timber forest produce which directly impact people living around these forest areas.

For instance, the report noted, that population of around 100,000 is dependent on water supply from the Srisailam Dam in Andhra Pradesh’s Nagarjunasagar Srisailam tiger reserve and about 1.2 million gallons of purified water is supplied per day to nearby Srisailam town.

Among the 10 reserves, ‬MP’s Panna tiger reserve provided tangible and intangible benefits of Rs 67.14 crore and Rs 20,632.95 crore respectively, the lowest of economic benefits from all ten reserves studied. The highest tangible and intangible benefits worth Rs 34.33 crore and Rs 109,664.82 crore respectively were from Jharkhand’s Palamu tiger reserve.

India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar called tiger reserves the engines of economic growth. “Looking at the triggered effect of investment in tiger reserves leading to the creation of multiple benefits, it would not be wrong to designate these tiger reserves as the engines of economic growth,” said Javadekar, in his message, in the report.

Ecosystem benefits

The results of the study indicate that tiger reserves provide a host of ecosystem services which are of significant value in a time when countries are investing heavily in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The study stressed that the “tiger reserves offer resilience for climate change and other environmental challenges the world faces today by conserving what matters” and are “crucial if future generations are to have an opportunity to enjoy natural landscapes that exist today”.

The study also found that natural ecosystems in the tiger reserves provide adequate resources to humans that can be valued in the range of Rs 1,643 crore to Rs 7,042 crores. The 10 tiger reserves offer protection from disease, predators and parasites, which is an avoided cost in the range of Rs 7.7 crore to Rs 24.15 crores.

Tiger reserves provide benefits worth trillions of rupees every year. Credit: Pixabay [Public Domain]

Water and health benefits

The report emphasised that forests play a pivotal role in augmenting water flows and tiger reserves “conserving the forests, wetlands and other ecosystems have a profound impact on the hydrological processes of the watershed.”

“When precipitation falls on a forested area, it is intercepted by dense canopy cover, thereby reducing its intensity,” the report explained. “Some of the water that reaches the surface evaporates back, some of it goes as a run-off and some of it is absorbed by the roots of the trees and moves out into the atmosphere through the process of transpiration. After the soil moisture reaches its field or saturation capacity, the remaining water recharges the groundwater table.”

It pegged that benefits related to the provisioning of water from these 10 tiger reserves at over Rs 33,000 crore. The significance of this amount is highlighted when compared to the total budget of the Indian government’s newly created Ministry of Jal Shakti in the 2019-’20 budget which is Rs 28,261.59 crore. The Jal Shakti ministry includes the department of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation and the department of drinking water and sanitation which, this year, have been allocated Rs 8,245.25 crore and Rs 20,016.34 crore respectively.

The report emphasised that economic valuation helps in “recognising, demonstrating and capturing the ecosystem services values into the mainstream socio-economic system and policymaking”.

“Recognition of these values is likely to provide an evidence base for enhanced investment – mainly by the government – and targeted management practices,” it noted.

The analysis also emphasised the impact of tiger reserves on the health and overall well-being of human beings.

The health benefits from the tiger reserves included ecosystem services like gene pool protection of flora and fauna, carbon sequestration, water provisioning, biological control, pollination, recreation, nature interpretation and climate regulation services that have a “huge direct and indirect impact on human health.”

As per the study, the collective worth of the ecosystem services having a direct-indirect impact on human health was found to be in the range of Rs 11,014 crore to Rs 34,593 crore every year for the selected tiger reserves.

“I have a simple understanding of the report that it gives a new perspective on how we look at our natural resources,” Parveen Kaswan, an Indian Forest Service officer currently posted with West Bengal’s forest department, told Mongabay. “Quantifying the ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, provisioning of fresh water, oxygen and then the direct benefits like tourism, timber, non-timber forest produce etc is a complex thing.”

“I think such studies nudge policymakers and user agencies to take alternate route than diverting good forests,” he added. “It puts a value on things which people take for granted. Even in the case of resource utilisation, there is a debate of who should get what. Such studies tell us what we are talking about. Saving the environment makes economic sense also.”

The findings of the study are significant as, according to the report, a “proper understanding of what ecosystem services are available from a tiger reserve and who has access to them can, therefore, assist in understanding how costs and benefits of conservation are distributed, and thus help to address conflicts related to tiger reserves”.

Across the country, tiger reserves and wildlife corridors, which connect such reserves, are increasingly under threat from developmental projects such as highways, railway lines, dams, mining and others.

This article first appeared on Mongabay.