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‘Assam rhinoceros data may have been doctored for funds’

An animal could have been counted twice, thrice: NGO

An organisation of whistleblowers in Assam, armed with an RTI reply from the authorities of a national park, has said that rhinoceros census data may be getting doctored for ensuring the flow of foreign funds.

The assertion has come less than a week before the rhino census in the 430 sq. km. Kaziranga National Park begins. The last rhino census in the wildlife reserve, a World Heritage Site, was in 2015.

Swaraj Asom, an NGO that was one of the petitioners in the Louis Berger bribery case involving consultancies for urban projects in Assam and Goa, on Wednesday said wildlife enumerators have no mechanism in place to ensure that the same rhino is not counted twice or thrice.

“We have reasons to doubt the rhino data after receiving a reply to an RTI query from the authorities of Orang National Park (about 80 km northeast of Guwahati). The park has 17 blocks but most of the 100 rhinos counted in 2012 were from two blocks — Satsimalu and Chaila — where officials were involved, but wildlife activists and neutral observers virtually did not spot rhinos in the other blocks,” Bhaben Handique, coordinator of Swaraj Asom, told newspersons on Wednesday.

Mr. Handique and fellow-activist Tarun Chandra Deka said other wildlife reserves have been stalling replies to similar RTI queries for quite some time now.

‘Neutral authorities’

The duo questioned the rhino data release after the census in Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary last week. “They counted 102 rhinos this time, which is an increase of 35 (animals) after 26 of the 93 counted in 2012 died naturally or due to poaching. Such figures need to be verified by neutral authorities,” Mr. Handique said.

He said the “doubtful data” point to a plan to have at least 3,000 rhinos as envisaged in the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 initiative so that foreign conservation agencies continue to provide funds, a sizeable part of which goes to green groups working in collusion with forest officials. “Our demand is that New Delhi should clear the doubts by probing the census methods and ensuring the exercise is done through GPS and other available technology, so that the same rhino is not counted twice or thrice if it moves from one block to the other,” Mr. Handique said.

Forest officials denied any foul play. “We have asked the enumerators to ensure maximum transparency,” State Forest Minister Pramila Rani Brahma said.

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2020 9:39:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/assam-rhino-data-may-be-doctored-for-funds-says-ngo/article23314547.ece

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