CONSPIRACY IN KAZIRANGA
Under-reporting cause of two
‘good years’ in KNP during 2010-11
By Our Staff Reporter
Guwahati, June 27: Poaching of rhinos has been on the rise since the year 2007, but in two particular years - 2010 and 2011 - there was a sudden and striking drop in the number of rhinos killed in Kaziranga tiol Park. According to official figures, seven rhinos were killed in 2010 and six in the following year.
An investigation by The Sentinel has thrown up some bizarre facts which leave enough room for suspicion of foul play by a section of forest staff posted in the park to cover up cases of poaching during those two years.
Walkie-talkie communication among the forest staff at Kaziranga was restricted during those years due to which some of the rhino killing went unreported.
The official version of the forest department is that around 80 walkie-talkie sets deployed in the park were malfunctioning during that period, leading to restricted communication. Around 50 of the sets were repaired and re-deployed in 2012, a year during which the number of rhinos killed in the park went up to 17.
Insiders in the park, however, told The Sentinel that in the year 2010 and 2011, the number of rhinos killed in the park was actually more, but due to a "secret unwritten" directive from a section of Forest department high-ups, the incidences were hidden and not brought to book.
Till 2009, the forest staff used to report poaching incidences to their high-ups over walkie-talkies. But since the walkie-talkie communication is also heard by other forest staff having their own such sets, it is difficult to hide any incident. However, a few higher-ups in the Forest department then decided to stop reporting of poaching cases via walkie-talkies, apparently as part of a conspiracy.
The forest staff on the field were asked to report poaching cases only via mobile phones. "The higher-ups then decided which incident to make public and which not. One can check the walkie-talkie conversations prior to 2010 and during those two years to verify it," the insiders said.
Sources said around 50 percent of rhino poaching cases were allegedly covered up during 2010-11.
"This tactic had a rippling effect. The junior staff lost fear and some malcontents within the park got encouraged," the sources said.
Ever since walkie-talkie communication was restored, the rhino poaching cases again, not curiously though, saw a jump. In 2012, 17 were killed and in 2013, the number was 31.
Also, since 2011, the Forest department had recruited new forest guards in the park. A major chunk of these guards, surprisingly, belong to one particular assembly constituency of central Assam. Sources alleged that "many malcontents" got jobs during the recruitment and some of them were posted in Kaziranga.
"Some of these malcontents are currently working as frontline staff at Kaziranga and are aiding rhino poaching. The recent arrest of 4-6 forest staff by Jakhalabandha police confirms this nexus of a section of forest staff with poachers," the sources added.