Fund crunch affects conservation activities at national parks

November 16, 2011 11:25 am | Updated 11:25 am IST - KOCHI:

The National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries of Kerala have become vulnerable to encroachment and poaching as the cash-strapped parks are being forced to cut the protection and conservation activities.

The drastic reduction in the Central allocation and the failure of the State government to compensate for the loss have resulted in the downsizing of protection staff and even fire control operations. A large number of tribal people engaged as watchers on daily wages basis were being denied salaries.

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forest had recently reduced the annual allocation for protected areas to Rs.2.88 crore against the last year's Rs.4.4 crore.

The Munnar Wildlife Division, which covers four national parks and two sanctuaries, is one of the worst affected areas in the State. The Eravikulam, Pampadum Shola, Mathikettan and Anamudi Shola National Parks and Chinnar and Kurinjimala sanctuaries come under the division.

Senior officials apprehend that financial crisis may affect the activities of Neyyar, Wayanad and Idukki wildlife sanctuaries and Silent Valley National Park too.

The park managers are toying with the idea of either reducing the number of tribal watchers or the days of engaging them to tide over the financial crisis.

The Chinnar sanctuary engages 73 members of the Hill Pulaya tribal community; Eravikulam National Park engages 23 Muthuvans; and 30 Hill Pulayar tribe members work at Pambadum Shola, Mathikettan and Anamudi national parks and Kurinjimala sanctuary.

The salary of at least half of the tribal watchers engaged in the division remains unpaid. On an average, a tribal watcher is engaged for 26 days a month and paid around Rs.400 a day, said an official of the division.

Tribal watchers of the division, led by K. Gandhi and P. Durai had recently sought the intervention of the Forest Minister. They had also demanded steps for protecting their wages and continuing conservation efforts.

An official of the division apprehended that the cut in number of watchers or the reduction in the number of days of engagement would adversely affect the protection strategy of the unique ecosystem of Western Ghats. The conservation measures of these areas are heavily dependent on the forest-dependent tribal communities. These tribals, besides contributing to the conservation efforts, also play a key role in bringing revenue to the State exchequer, officials said.

The tribal watchers have also emerged as knowledgeable and skilful personnel and assist the forest staff in visitor management and protection measures. They have also become inevitable for the well being of the protected areas, pointed out officials.

With the cut in number of field staff and funds, the protected areas have become exposed to the pressures of ecotourism, sandalwood smuggling, ganja cultivation, poaching, encroachment and plundering of forest wealth.

In Chinnar, the sandalwood protection would be in peril whereas the management of visitors and the protection of the endangered species Nilgiri tahr would be at risk in Eravikulam National Park. The shola parks are exposed to a host of risks, including encroachment and forest fire. Considering the financial crisis, the parks would require additional funds to engage even sandalwood and wildlife protection watchers, officials pointed out.

If the crisis continues, most of the protected areas will also be forced to suspend controlled burning of grasslands, cutting of fire lines, anti-poaching patrolling, deployment of fire protection and fire gangs, which have to be started shortly, said officials. Senior officials of the department said that the State government was apprised of the situation.

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