Lion trackers to protest outsourcing of work
THE TIMES OF INDAI
AHMEDABAD/RAJKOT: They are often called 'lions' of conservation. And, their on-field expertise is one of the key reasons why Asiatic lions are thriving in Gir and surrounding districts.
However, these lion trackers, locally known as puggis, are not a happy lot these days.
For the first time in the history of Gir, the trackers are planning to go on a strike to protest against the forest department's decision to outsource several human resource functions including animal tracking in lion conservation.
On June 5, the World Environment Day, majority of the 280 trackers from four districts will submit a memorandum to the chief conservator of forests A P Singh in Junagadh to demand revoking a government resolution that permits outsourcing manpower required for forest conservation. The decision to outsource work to a private agency was taken at the meeting of the Gujarat State Lion Conservation Society (GSLCS) held in Junagadh on May 16. The department plans to outsource the work beginning July 1.
"The human resource outsourcing agency will be selected through a tender process," the government resolution states.
A lion tracker from Amreli said, "Outsourcing tracking work to an outside agency would be detrimental to the conservation efforts. We strongly oppose this. We have experience of many years. The new persons would not necessarily be acquainted with lions's area and behaviour." Another tracker with 10 years of experience in Gir said, "This is a major threat to our future as we can be sacked anytime once new agency is hired."
The trackers have said that if the forest department does not give written assurance of revoking the outsourcing decision, they would sit on a dharna outside the Junagadh CCF office and later strike work. Striking work could have a major impact in the lion's abode considering the frequent incidents of wild cats falling into the well or entering human habitat. Of the total Rs 3.36 crore sanctioned for 2017-18, GSLCS has allotted Rs 4.4.46 lakh under the 'human resource' head, which includes having 35 trackers in Gir (east). Wildlife conservation experts are unsure how outsourcing of critical field work in conservation would help.
"I personally don't believe that lion tracking itself could be outsourced since it is a critical activity pertaining to conservation management and the private agency would not have the expertise to fulfil the requirement," said Priyvrat Gadhvi, member of the State Wildlife Board and a conservation expert.
A P Singh, chief conservator of forests, wildlife said that only the methodology of hiring manpower has been changed and there is no threat to the existing lion trackers. "The existing lion trackers will continue to work as usual. The new manpower including trackers and other staff will be hired through an agency. It is a government policy."