Conservation of the Royal Bengal Tiger has taken a hit in India’s easternmost tiger reserve.
The authorities of the Namdapha Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh have discontinued the services of 53 frontline staff, all casual employees.
The 1,895 sq.km. tiger reserve in Changlang district, bordering Myanmar, is now left with 113 casual employees, who were inducted under Project Tiger of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
In an order on July 14, Namdapha’s Field Director T. Riba said the 53 were shortlisted after an assessment of the performing and non-performing workers. This was in view of non-payment of wages of the casual employees by the NTCA.
Officials of the Arunachal Pradesh Forest Department said the NTCA, formed in 2005, roped in 166 people for Namdapha a few years ago. But the NTCA did not provide any fund for wages of these casual employees during the 2018-2019 fiscal.
“A huge amount of fund is required to meet the expenses of wages of these employees, and also a huge amount of arrear wages is lying outstanding due to non-receipt of funds from the NTCA,” the order said.
“There are a large number of non-performing casual employees adding to the burden of this establishment,” the order said, adding that the non-performing employees were evaluated and told to go.
“Almost 80% of Namdapha is inaccessible, and it is difficult for the staff to monitor the remaining area of the tiger reserve. The reduced staff strength will make it harder for us, but one cannot help if there are no funds,” Mr. Riba told The Hindu .
Wildlife officials believe that Namdapha, at an altitude varying from 200 metres to 4,571 metres above mean sea level, is an ideal tiger habitat. But no tiger has ever been caught there in camera traps.
“In 2018, we set up 118 camera traps but could not catch any tiger. We confirmed the presence of three individual tigers from pug marks and scats (DNA from tiger poop),” Mr Riba said.
Namdapha, named after a river meandering through it, was declared as India’s 15th Tiger Reserve in 1983 with a core area of 1,808 sq km and a buffer zone of 177 sq km. Declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1972, it was elevated to a national park in the same year as it was made a tiger reserve.
The tiger is one of 96 species of mammals found in Namdapha, which is divided into the Miao, Namdapha and Gandhigram ranges. The others include the endemic red giant flying squirrel, leopard, clouded leopard, snow leopard, Malayan sun bear, Asiatic black bear, hoolock gibbon, and capped langur.
Namdapha has been in the news for the State government’s push for developing a 156 km road through it connecting Miao, the headquarters of the tiger reserve, and Vijaynagar, a settlement of former Assam Rifles personnel close to the Myanmar border.
The road is the lifeline of Vijaynagar requiring people to trek for seven to 10 days. The odd sortie by Indian Air Force is the only other way for the people there to communicate with the world beyond.