Kerala

Tribal guards of Kerala’s tiger reserves in distress

R. Rajith, a protection guard at Periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady, is having sleepless nights worrying about his burgeoning debt.

Rajith has defaulted on a group loan, which he anda few others of the Paliyakudi tribal hamlet in Thekkady had raised a few months ago. He now owes the money-lending firm ₹30,000.

Like Rajith, the nearly 300 tribespeople engaged as guards and watchers in the reserve are finding the going tough with their monthly wage days being reduced to half.

The thinning of tourist inflow since the COVID-19 outbreak, the subsequent lockdown, and the dwindling cash reserves have forced the reserve authorities to cut wage days. “We utilised the reserve funds to pay at least half the wages to the workers. Since the lockdown, there is no income from no eco-tourism activities as there are no visitors to the park,” said K.R. Anoop, field director of the reserve.

‘Severe cash crunch’

With tourist inflow drying up, the service of tribespeople, who were employed in eco-tourism programmes, was utilised for protection activities to provide them sustenance. With no income, the reserve is facing a severe cash crunch, said A. P. Sunil Babu, the Deputy Director of the Reserve.

In Parambikulam, the second tiger reserve in the State, the same story is being played out. Though the wage days of the workers were increased at times, they had to be brought down to 15 in the past few months because of the financial position of the park, said Vishak Sasikumar, the deputy director.

‘No option’

Rajit said he was clinging to the job, despite the pay cut, since he had no other option. His mother too had raised another loan and the monthly repayment together would come around ₹5,000. “My brother, an autorickshaw driver, has been rendered jobless since the lockdown and we are struggling to survive,” says Rajith.

Besides the financial burden, what worries Rajith is the societal pressure that comes along with the default. The financial firm refuses to accept the payment from other group members if one member defaults on the loan.


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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 4:02:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/tribal-guards-of-keralas-tiger-reserves-in-distress/article34828713.ece

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