GUWAHATI, Jan 23 � Even as the rhino is being ruthlessly gunned down in their dozens by poachers, the Forest department seems in no mood to give the frontline staff a fair deal, conveniently forgetting that it is these men who remain at the forefront of the fight against depredators of forest wealth.
Conservationists believe that the battle against poachers will be a doomed affair as long as the frontline staff that constitutes the backbone of the anti-poaching mechanism remains a neglected lot.
Let alone equipping the frontline staff in a manner that can match the poaching gangs that operate with a high degree of sophistication, frontline staff manning prime rhino habitats such as Pobitora and Orang are having to make do without salaries for months.
Things came to such a pass that the forest guards in Pobitora, who had been without salary for five months, were on the verge of leaving their jobs in protest against the apathy of the Forest higher-ups. It was after a lot of persuasion that they were made to stay, with their salaries cleared just on the Magh Bihu eve.
Similar has been the situation in Orang National Park, another prime rhino habitat that has also seen several rhinos killed by poachers last year.
�This is a serious situation, as the frontline staff constitutes the backbone of conservation. If they are denied of their salaries for five months and made to serve without basic amenities, their morale is bound to be low. This, in turn, will have a disturbing impact on forest protection,� Bibhab Talukdar, secretary general of Aaranyak, said.
Talukdar said that it was for the Forest department higher-ups and the State Government to resolve the matter as a top priority. �You can hardly expect the frontline staff to give their best under such circumstances,� he added.
Delay in releasing funds for various field-level activities has also severely constrained the management of rhino-bearing habitats such as Pobitora and Orang. �This has been a recurring problem but nothing has been done to ease the situation,� a forest official rued.
The condition of frontline staff in most of the forests is deplorable, as they do not even get to enjoy the basic amenities while enduring the rigours of harsh jungle life. It is hardly surprising that they suffer from low morale and lack motivation.
Conservationists feel that given the disturbing spurt in rhino poaching since the last couple of years, the single most important thing for the forest authorities is to equip the frontline staff in the best possible manner to take on gangs of poachers.
�Regrettably, these men have been subjected to a raw deal for decades. In many forests, they do not have more than a pair of uniforms, have few weapons, inadequate ration, and non-existent medical facilities. They do not even have filters for safe drinking water,� a conservationist said.
Conservationists also believe that the Forest department by according less priority to wildlife divisions was doing a great disservice to conservation. �Most forest officers tend to treat a stint in a wildlife division as punishment posting, as wildlife divisions get less attention from the authorities,� he said.