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WWF tiger project not scrapped: Govt

The Times of India News Service

NEW DELHI: Contrary to the impression created by an ongoing controversy between World Wide Fund for Nature-International and WWF-India, the tiger conservation programme has not been scrapped - nor is it likely to be, says the Union government.

The issue hit the headlines after the Union government, on August 24, withdrew a no-objection certificate for the setting up of a regional office for the tiger conservation programme of WWF-International. Its plea: WWF-International had been publishing wrong maps, and continued to publish more with incorrect national boundaries.

The tiger conservation programme is funded directly by WWF-International - it has office space at WWF-India. Today, it seems to be snowballing into a fight of sorts between WWF-International and WWF-India, with the latter dissociating itself from the publications.

Additional inspector-general (forests) in the environment ministry S C Sharma says the issue was a simple one for them: incorrect maps. WWF-International was given a notice on January 21 this year. Corrections were promised, but not made. So, the government decided to withdraw the no-objection certificate for a regional office.

Mr Sharma says the funding for the tiger conservation programme - he puts it at about Rs 2 crore annually - has been coming for two years; the government had no complaints on this front. But the contribution is a fraction of the entire effort.

Would the government reconsider if WWF-International changes its maps? There has been a ``positive response'' from it, says Mr Sharma, refusing to give a commitment. The issue will have to be considered by the environment and external affairs ministries.

WWF-International, however, has something different to say - maintaining the issue has ``originated from within WWF-India''. In a letter to Mr Sharma dated September 3, WWF-International director-general Claude Martin alleges, ``We believe this situation has been created by the manipulation by certain parties in India who have an interest in seeing the denigration of the name of WWF-International.''

Stating ``WWF has no political intentions or interest in border disputes anywhere in the world,'' he adds, ``the information being supplied to your ministry by these parties is deliberately misleading...''

Drawing attention to one of the maps which the government says shows incorrect boundaries, he says: ``The Global 200 Map has only been published once, in March 1997. The distribution of this map was left to WWF-India. Since our discussions earlier this year, we have indeed taken the agreed steps to correct the map...''

The letter says instructions have also been issued to all WWF offices that any publications containing maps of India should adhere to the UN-recognised borders and that they should also carry an appropriate disclaimer.

WWF-India, too, chose to issue a clarification on Tuesday, saying, ``The government decision has been taken after satisfying itself of all relevant facts and has nothing to do with the management of WWF-India. The fact of the maps being incorrect has been admitted; hence there is no merit in linking the issue with the management of WWF-India or anyone else.''

It claims, too, that it is wrong to say it was asked but ``failed to produce a correct map.'' It says it is not responsible for any of the objectionable publications or their distribution here.