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Forest dept prunes staff size due to fund crunch

Express News Service

BENGALURU: Efforts to minimise man-animal conflict could take a major hit as contract staff strength has been reduced in many forest ares of the state due to Covid-19 and shortage of central government funds.While the Forest Department is trying to address the issue of the ground staff, especially those in the anti-poaching camps, staff strength has already taken a beating in many places. In Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary (CWS), 48 watchers have left their jobs for various reasons, most importantly as they have not been getting salaries. In Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, 39 people were removed.

In Kali Tiger Reserve, forest watchers who feared losing their jobs, staged a protest on Thursday. They resumed duties only after the reserve director gave them a written assurance that they will not be removed due to financial constraints.The fear of losing jobs also haunts forest watchers at the anti-poaching camps in other forests including Bandipur and Nagarahole Tiger Reserves. Kali Tiger Reserve Director Maria Christu Raj D told TNIE that finances were a problem as, under Project Tiger, funds only were given only for the March-October period and now funds from other projects are being utilised.

Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary Deputy Conservator of Forests Ramesh Kumar too pointed out that funds allocated for creating fire lines was utilised to pay staff salaries. “It has been decided not to hire any new recruits”, he said. During the lockdown and the Unlock period, many poaching cases were reported in Karnataka. A senior official from Bhadra reserve said some staffers were removed because of the financial crunch and also because they had started creating problems as they were not paid. But now the others in the anti-poaching camps are stressed as there is a shortage of manpower, he pointed out. 

Annually the centre allocates funds to every state for wildlife and forest management, but due to the Covid-19 induced lockdown, the funds have not been released. “The Centre and states share the funding, but this year there is a problem,” said Ajai Mishra, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife. Forest Minister Anand Singh assured TNIE that he will talk to the chief minister and the forest department on this and look into it immediately. 

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