GUWAHATI While the All India Tiger Estimation 2022 published in July has indicated that western Assam’s Manas National Park and Tiger Reserve is moving from a low- to high-tiger-density area, the bad news for the national park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the more popular Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve, is that it is almost 63% short of staff.
In a letter to Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav, eastern Assam-based green activist Rohit Choudhury said Manas had an effective staff strength of 109 against the 294 posts sanctioned for the two grades of foresters and forest guards. Apart from 160 posts lying vacant, 25 people had not been deployed in the field due to various ailments, he pointed out.
Citing an official note on July 1 sent to the additional principal chief conservator of forests in Bodoland Territorial Region, the activist also said about 140 home guards deployed in Manas to compensate for the vacancy in the sanctioned posts had not been paid their full salary since October 2022 due to financial constraints. The pay of the home guards was increased from ₹300 to ₹767 per day.
The note was from the tiger reserve’s field director to the additional principal chief conservator of forests in the Bodoland Territorial Region.
“…the translocation of rhinos to Manas, as approved during the 12th SBWL (State Board of Wildlife) meeting (in September 2022) has been kept in abeyance for this compromised security environment,” the note read, underlining the poor security scenario in the Panbari and Kuklung ranges of the tiger reserve.
“…the compromised security environment has already been felt with an elephant poaching at Panbari and detection of the decomposed rhino skeleton without horn,” the note read.
The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Head of the Forest Force, and the Chief Wildlife Warden were also informed about the security scenario of Manas in February.
Also citing official documents saying 2,811 hectares of the 500-sq.km Manas had been encroached upon, Mr. Choudhury sought the Centre’s intervention in protecting the tiger reserve, once downgraded by UNESCO to a “Heritage Site in Danger”.
Senior forest officials did not respond to questions on the staff issues in Manas and the resulting threats.