Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Letting Gir guard down has opened doors to poaching

Ahmedabad Newsline Net Edition

Date 11-3-2007



Gandhinagar, March 11: Two incidents at Gir Lion sanctuary — the poaching of three lions last week, and chasing of two cubs to death in a well last month—- might just be symptoms of an ailment that has been in the making for over a decade now. With no proper recruitments since 1992, the average of a beat guard in the forests of Junagadh circle that houses the Gir sanctuary is 40 years plus.


Result of a 15-year moratorium on new recruitments at the cutting edge level, the inertia of higher ups in the administration has been sapping the Forest Department of energies so much required for guarding vast forests on foot. The seriousness of the situation can be gauged from the fact that in some ranges there is not a single beat guard below the age of 25.


“This is the cadre which is supposed to keep tabs on the goings on inside the forests with an area of about 700 hectares, sometimes criss-crossing 15-20 villages. This effectively means running up to 10-12 kms in a single day if a beat is to be serviced properly,” informs H M Rabari, a leader of Beat Guards Association fighting a case against the government. He has been a beat guard for the last 27 years with no promotions.


In 2003, 27 contract labourers were inducted as beat guards by the Department. That was the last time fresh blood got infused into the system. As per Forest Department guidelines, for a well-managed forest area about 50 per cent of the total strength should be below 35-years. In Gujarat’s forests, more than 90 per cent of staff is above that mark.


“We have sent many reports to higher ups, but a concrete action has not materialized. If properly involved the staff just could not have missed the roars of lions being trapped and poached. A lion’s distress sound can be heard for kms in the silence of forests,” says a Conservator of Forests.


So was the distress call of three lionesses missed because there was no one to listen? Ranges lie vacant for months as some go on leave, some are transferred and others just run away from depression. Many have taken premature retirement rather than face the rigours of the job.


Senior officers claim the situation is not going to continue for long. Written tests for appointment of 200 temporary forest Sahayaks (helpers) are to be held at the end of this month. But the whole process of recruitment and training would be complete only by the end of this year. “At least something is happening.


After a long time we are looking at recruitments and promotions at all levels from cutting edge onwards.


While this would strengthen the basics, we are also in the process of designing programmes which see public participation in forest policing,” says Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF), M L Sharma.

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