Conservation of the rare ecosystem affected
A drastic cut in the allocation of Plan funds by the Central government and the State government's reluctance to allow full use of the budget provision have badly affected the maintenance and conservation of the Silent Valley National Park and the four wildlife sanctuaries under the Palakkad wildlife circle.
What has come as a major setback is the decision of the State government to give only a matching fund, as allotted by the Centre, says Om Prakash Kaler, Chief Conservator of Forest, Wildlife, Northern Region.
The Silent Valley National Park, the last patch of rainforest in the Kerala side of the Western Ghats, has been allotted only Rs.37 lakh by the Centre in 2011-12 as against Rs.90 lakh in 2010-11. In the State budget, the Silent Valley has been allotted Rs.100 lakh for the current year, but the government is allowing use of only Rs.37 lakh. So the total allotment for the national park this year comes to a meagre Rs.74 lakh.
Following the funds crunch, 80 watchers of the park have not been paid their salary for the last three months. They are employed on a daily wage of Rs.390 in four base camps in remote and inaccessible areas, one of them says.
The official says the meagre fund will not be able to meet even urgent requirements, such as fire protection, ganja raid, maintenance of roads and buildings, etc. In this scenario, the forest watchers may have to be retrenched, risking the protection of the unique ecosystem.
Other than the Silent Valley, the most hit due to the fund cut is the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, considered the biggest sanctuary in the State with an area of 340 sq km. Here, the allotment has been cut down to one-fourth by the Centre.
Officials of the sanctuary say that the services of the 60-odd forest watchers of the sanctuary will have to be terminated if the governments are not willing to provide more funds.
This year, the Centre has allotted just Rs.23 lakh and only an equal amount will come from the State government though it has earmarked Rs.80 lakh in this year's budget for the sanctuary. This comes to just one-fourth of the previous year's allotment and it is not enough to meet even emergency services, a top official of the sanctuary says. The situation is the same in the case of the Peechi-Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary, which has been allotted just Rs.22 lakh by the Centre, the Chemmini Wildlife Sanctuary (Rs.18 lakh), and the Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary (Rs.23 lakh).
Sources in the Forest Department say this will adversely affect the protection of these important forest areas in the State.