GUWAHATI: Manas National Park and Tiger Reserve in Assam, a UNESCO natural world heritage site renowned for its breathtaking biodiversity and abundant wildlife, now confronts a severe challenge. The reserve's security and wildlife preservation are at risk due to the alarming number of vacant positions within the forest force. Nearly half of the forest workforce's posts remain unfilled, causing growing concerns among environmentalists and wildlife enthusiasts.
The dire situation stems from an acute shortage of manpower, which has raised alarms about the protection of this invaluable natural treasure. The crisis has been further compounded by the plight of underpaid home guards who, despite a salary increase by the Assam government last year, have not received their revised remuneration.
Rohit Choudhury, an environmental activist, has brought these issues to the forefront by shedding light on communication between the field director of Manas Tiger Reserve and senior officials of the state forest department. In a letter addressed to Union Forest Minister Bhupender Yadav, Choudhury highlighted the critical staff shortage, revealing that a staggering 64.2% of forest guard positions are vacant. Out of the sanctioned strength of 235, a concerning 151 positions remain unfilled. The situation is equally disconcerting for foresters, with 160 out of 294 positions still vacant.
This severe manpower crisis has rippling effects throughout the reserve, leading to the postponement of the much-needed translocation of rhinos, which had been previously approved during the 12th SBWL meeting. The compromised security environment poses a grave threat to the safety of wildlife and their habitats.
Incidents of elephant poaching at Panbari and the recent discovery of a decomposed rhino skeleton without its horn underscore the urgency of the situation. The lack of adequate staff to monitor and safeguard the reserve has emboldened poachers and threatens the delicate balance of the ecosystem.
It is noteworthy that the remuneration of forest guards was hiked on October 19, 2022, from Rs 300 per day to Rs 767 per day. However, the implementation of this salary increase has been questionable and has not provided the expected relief to the struggling workforce.
Immediate action is imperative to address the crisis in Manas National Park and Tiger Reserve. Filling the vacant positions of forest guards and foresters with competent personnel is essential to enhance the security of the reserve and protect its diverse wildlife. The Assam government and relevant authorities must prioritize the welfare of the reserve's workforce by ensuring their fair remuneration and addressing their grievances.
In conclusion, Manas National Park, with its remarkable biodiversity and rich wildlife, is at a critical juncture. The shortage of forest workforce threatens the security of this UNESCO natural world heritage site. Urgent measures are needed to address the staffing crisis and protect the magnificent wildlife that calls this sanctuary home.