"Will you take personal responsibility if a big cat is poached while the tiger reserve staff is deployed on poll duty on your instructions?"
"Did the previous deaths/poaching take place only when the staff was on election duty? Will you take personal responsibility if a tiger is poached when you are not on election duty?"
This exchange between deputy director of Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR) Kiran Bisen and Seoni Collector and district election officer Bharat Yadav, which may at first come across as an ego clash between an IFS and an IAS officer, has helped clear the air about an Election Commission order, which prohibits deployment of staff and requisition of vehicles of a wildlife sanctuary or a national park on election duty.
The altercation started when Bisen refused to spare PTR staff and herself for election duty, saying it would endanger the tigers in the reserve. Yadav, who had made the request in a meeting on September 6 and issued a letter in this regard, responded by serving a show-cause notice on September 26, asking for an explanation from Bisen.
"Do you personally monitor the park for 24 hours and do tigers remain in your custody," he asked Bisen in the notice.
While Bisen is yet to reply, the government has made it clear to Yadav that the PTR staff cannot be asked to engage in poll duty because there are standing instructions against it.
Sources said the PTR staff got in touch with their seniors and the order against their deployment for poll duty was relayed to them through the home department. While Bisen has not been put on election duty, the forest department has agreed to spare a sub-divisional officer for the polls.
President of Satpuda Foundation and member of the Maharashtra State Wildlife Board Kishore Rithe said it was surprising that many collectors were unaware of the EC order issued in 1998. He said poachers will have a field day should the park be left unattended since inter-state gangs, which have in the past confessed to killing tigers in Seoni, are still active in the area.