Tuesday 26 June 2007 at 17:40
A new initiative in the Indian state of Gujarat will soon see forest staff in the country's only reserve of Asiatic lions get insurance cover. At present there is no cover available to thousands of forest personnel who work in wildlife parks in the state. Forest personnel who die on duty or who are injured have little access to financial help - which has lowered morale and affected recruitment. But the death of 19 lions last year has led to the launch of the initiative. It is the brainchild of the Gujarat government and a non-governmental organisation, Wildlife Trust of India. It comes into being after years of discussions between the state government and the trust, which has long argued that such a scheme would "motivate and boost the morale" of forest personnel. Similar schemes for wildlife staff operate in other parts of India. "The scheme was started in 2001 and is the only one of its kind that has paid 40 death claims to families of forest guards killed fighting poachers and in accidents involving wild animals while protecting forests," the trust's website says. The insurance plan was approved by the Gujarat government earlier this month. It will be financed entirely by the trust, in return for employees each paying 70 rupees (around $2) premium. The policy will cover the insured person against accident or death when on duty for 100,000 rupees (around $2,000). The Gujarat government is now in the process of collating information about the number of staff working in Gir - the country's only Asiatic lion reserve - and other wildlife parks, officials say. Another rare animal, the wild ass, is located in the Rann of Kutch in the eastern part of the state. The trust's Rakesh Kumar Singh said a large number of posts in the forest department are vacant at the moment. "Most forest staff do not want to go and work in parks, as they do not want to endanger their lives," he said.