While the nation aspires to double the number of tigers by 2022, “open defiance” of foresters despite rising mortality of the fine felines has raised question mark over conservation in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh.

The Madhya Pradesh government in a letter reprimanded the Field Director of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve for not disclosing or submitting any report explaining deaths of three orphaned tiger cubs as well as other felines during the year 2016-17.

More than 50 tigers have reportedly died in the past 20 months in Madhya Pradesh — a state known for its lush green forests and tigers.

The letter said that in case of the recent deaths of three cubs, the foresters neither submitted the first report nor sent any photographs despite repeated reminders from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and the state government.

“You had been repeatedly asked to send the forensic reports, histopathology reports, toxicological reports, post-mortem reports, coloured photographs and the primary on-spot observation of the incidents… They are all pending despite several directions from the top offices, which is matter of concern,” said R.P. Singh, the state’s Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) in the letter to Field Director Mridul Pathak.

Three orphaned tiger cubs kept under the care of tiger reserve authorities died between April 23 and 26. Their mother was electrocuted by poachers on the forest’s periphery in January.

The cubs, raised using a dummy tigress, died after catching infection, allegedly due to excessive exposure to VIP visitors. The visitors included the state’s Chief Minister and the Railway Minister.

Wildlife activists allege negligence, exposure to humans and absence of a wildlife veterinary cadre as the main reasons behind such deaths.

Earlier, when asked about the exposure of cubs to humans, Pathak said that they were kept in isolation and humans did not carry viruses.

Calling it “negligence of duty” and “open defiance of orders”, the state government has now asked the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve Director to submit final reports on the deaths of all tigers and leopards in the forest during 2016-17.

“Hope that another reminder would not be needed,” Singh said in the letter, procured by wildlife and RTI activist Ajay Dubey.

While Madhya Pradesh claims to be the “tiger state”, it is also becoming a tiger, bear and pangoline poaching hub.

“This is gross violation by the Bandhavgarh Field Director and he should be immediately removed. Not submitting final report and in some cases even primary report after a tiger’s death shows that there is no learning process involved in the type of conservation being followed,” Ajay Dubey said.

According to Dubey, there is no wildlife veterinary cadre — permanent wild animal doctors — across 10 tiger reserves and sanctuaries of Madhya Pradesh, including Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pench, Panna and Sanjay.

“The government in 2005 decided to form a permanent cadre for vets. The last reminder was sent to the tiger reserves and parks in 2013. Nothing has happened… Right now, the veterinarians are either on deputation or contract, which limits the scope of development,” Dubey said.