By Our Staff Reporter
Guwahati, April 26: At a time when there is growing public anger against the ubated killing of rhinos and illegal felling of trees in Assam, the State forest department has been left 'headless' thanks to internecine rivalries within the department.
For the record, Assam currently does not have a Principal Chief Conservator of Forest. Both the posts of PCCF — PCCF (general) who is also called Head of Forest Force (HoFF) and PCCF (wildlife) — are lying vacant. Nor is there any Chief Wildlife Warden presently. The last Chief Wildlife Warden RP Agarwalla, who was the PCCF (wildlife), retired in January last. PCCF (general) & HoFF VK Vishnoi also retired more than a month back.
APCCF (administration and vigilance) D Mathur is now holding additiol charge of both PCCF positions.
Department insiders admit that absence of the two departmental heads has effected functioning.
"Whom will the forest staff report to? You need full-fledged officers in the important posts which cannot be kept vacant like this. An in-charge officer cannot do justice to the posts," said a senior officer of the department, admitting that interl rivalries have stalled fresh appointments as well.
There is a committee which selects the officer for the two posts. Both are Indian Forest Service (Assam & Meghalaya) cadre posts. Officers serving in Meghalaya are also eligible to be empanelled for selection. The seniormost IFS officers generally get priority.
It is learnt that the selection committee is yet to schedule a meeting for effecting the selection.
There are 12 APCCF's presently serving in the State. Several wildlife and environmental activists have expressed concern that the Forest department is functioning without a head for so long.
"It is a time when rampant rhino poaching has been hitting headlines. People are expecting some positive initiatives from the government. The department needs to come out with an action plan, re-strategize and revitalize the staff. This is not possible when the department itself is headless," said an activist who did not wish to be med.
New State Forest minister Atuwa Munda had been showing some keenness in dealing with the problem of poaching at Kaziranga. He has led patrols in the park and held officers accountable. But can a headless department back up his efforts?