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Governor’s concern

The Sentinel had been, time and again, highlighting the worrying plight of the one–horned rhinoceros in Kaziranga tiol Park, virtually the last bastion of the animal. The situation has come to such a pass that none other than the State Governor Padmabha Balakrish Acharya, the head of the State, has been prompted to raise questions on the integrity and sincerity of the forest personnel responsible for guarding the State’s forests and wildlife. The Governor was even critical of the forest minister, who, he said, should work sincerely. The statement from the Governor, perhaps the first on the poaching issue since he took oath, is an indicator of the widespread concern that has been evoked by the regular poaching of rhinos – most of them mercilessly. In fact, the Governor articulated, in as many words, the opinion of the common people of the State. And this, of course, comes as an embarrassment for an otherwise indifferent forest department that has done precious little to protect the symbol of the State. Currently, there are total 2553 rhinos in Assam (as per the census done by Assam Forest Department, 2013) with 2329 in Kaziranga alone. As per rhino mortality data, a total 41 rhinos were killed in the State in 2013 (27 in Kaziranga, 2 in Pabitora, 4 in Orang, 4 in Mas and rest 6 outside the protected areas mainly near Kaziranga). In 2014, 29 rhinos were killed in the tiol park, also a Unesco World Heritage Site. Much has been said on the high demand for rhino horns in Chi and South–East Asian countries which has prompted poaching gangs to prey on the animal in the State. Insufficient intelligence gathering and field–based action for tracing the poaching networks, low rate of conviction of the suspects due to improper legal procedures and lack of evidence gathering, permeability of the protected area boundaries and insufficient anti–poaching camps and patrolling at the bordering areas have been seen as major contributing factors to the growing mece of poaching. Even if one sets aside the tural and man–made disadvantages, insufficient government action for providing security, basic facilities like uniform, water filter and boosting the morale of the frontline forest staff and field officers and a lack of mechanism for monitoring and protection of stray rhinos outside the protected areas have made the state a happy hunting ground for poachers. Environmentalists also blame poor coordition of the Forest Department with the local residents, organizations and other government agencies in the matter of generating support for conservation and protection actions. Worse, the State government has allowed industrial units and other private enterprises that are hazardous to the flora and fau of Kaziranga to come up in the vicinity of the park. Let alone street protests, even courts had been expressing concern over the growing threat to the State forests and wildlife and had been prodding the government to act effectively. The Governor, in his Wednesday’s statement, has suggested an overhaul of the security set–up and he has reasons to do so. There have been a number of instances of nexus between forest personnel and poachers, one of which was reported in The Sentinel recently. But the most extraordiry part of the Governor’s statement was his jibe at the state forest minister, who, he thinks, should ‘discharge his responsibilities to the State and its people and resources, carefully, sincerely and judiciously.’ Whenever he was criticized, the forest minister used to put up figures and statistics showing the prolific growth of the rhino population in Kaziranga and had been seeking immunity from the broadsides. Will he still produce those wonderful figures before the head of the State and skirt responsibility? It would be interesting to observe the reaction from the forest minister after the criticism in public, and that too from the Governor. The Governor’s remarks are a grim reminder of the state of affairs in the State government – how the ministers are functioning without any sense of responsibility or accountability whatsoever.

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Ankur Kalita

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