Officials fighting against all odds to save the tiger

The Hindu , Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Correspondent : Sharat S. Srivatsa
Poor infrastructure and low morale bog down staff in the field

Funds for procuring rations for staff in anti-poaching camps have not been received for the last two years

Diesel and maintenance bills mount as the Government is yet to release funds

Up to 60 per cent of posts in Nagarahole and Bandipur national parks are vacant

MYSORE: Sariska National Park in Rajasthan may have lost tigers, the pride of forests, but similar fate may be awaiting forests in Karnataka too, with the heavily depleted Forest Department fighting against all odds to save the wild cat. Conservation efforts by officials have received a raw deal over the years, mainly because of protesting villagers residing in the periphery of the jungles.

Even as the Union Government, alarmed by the disappearance of Tigers in Sariska, took action by setting up the Task Force for saving the tiger, the field staff is grappling with problems. Pleas to increase the funding for recurring expenditures on drawing fire line, repair of arms and walkie-talkies, maintenance of vehicles used for patrolling, and increase in the number of field staff have fallen on deaf ears.

Broken morale

The officials have also been fighting villagers and tribals living in the fringes of forests, and efforts to prevent poaching and timber smuggling continue. The brutal attack on the Antarasanthe Range Forest Officer, T. Venkatesh in Nagarahole National Park a fortnight ago by irate villagers after a poacher was killed, has further dented the morale of the Forest Department officials.

It is learnt that attacks like this in Nagarahole are not new, as officers have been assaulted and grievously injured by villagers in 1992, 1997 and 2000.

Senior officials point out that Forest Department officials have no power to fire at a mob even in self defence and the officials can fire at people (poachers) only for the purpose of forest conservation. Only the police are authorized to use arms against a mob to maintain law and order.

Sources say that while the Forest Department officials are vested with the powers of conservation, the police have the responsibility of law and order. When foresters, guards and other field staff are subjected to attacks by citizens, the efficiency of work comes down.

The infrastructure provided to the field staff in national parks speak of the interest shown by the Government towards conservation efforts. Sources said that up to 60 per cent of posts of forest officials of various designations in almost every range in Nagarahole and Bandipur National Parks are vacant. In one of the ranges in Nagarahole, of the seven beats demarcated for forest patrolling, four beats are vacant due to shortage of staff.

"Union Ministry of Forests and Environment has issued guidelines for forest patrolling, and each group must be armed with two double barrel guns and five personnel. However, the gap between the manual and the field provides a contrast," said sources.

Funds for procuring rations for staff in anti-poaching camps have not been received for the last two years, the diesel and maintenance bills have mounted without payment from the Government, funds have not been released for even the repairs of firearms.

The sources said that a range forest officer who is vested with the responsibility of conservation work in his range is not even provided a revolver. The pressure of working in the field under severe constraints and greater accountability has kept some officials away from wildlife conservation.

SOURCE : The Hindu, Tuesday, August 09, 2005

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