Monday, February 20, 2012

Tiger trackers get their due

Relief for cash-strapped Palamau park

Ranchi, Feb. 20: The weekend has proved lucky for striking trackers at Palamau Tiger Reserve currently in a no-pay-no-work mode, with the forest headquarters releasing partial funds in a bid to grant wages pending for seven months and the state deciding to gift cycles to each.

The 150 trackers at PTR had been on strike since February 9 to protest against the non-payment of their wages — Rs 125 a day for each — for all these months, which The Telegraph highlighted on Saturday in its report on the funds tangle that crippled the reserve.

In an overnight development, yesterday, the forest headquarters at Doranda released partial funds of around Rs 31 lakh to pay the wages. However, the core issue — why the state doesn’t bother to send the Centre a letter of utilisation of funds, which is why the tiger reserve is cash-strapped for years on end — has been left hanging.

The cheque, addressed to Palamau Tiger Reserve divisional forest officer Premjit Anand, could not be encashed today as banks were closed on Shivratri. Officials said that emergency funds were managed from other sources.

Chief conservator of forests (wildlife) A.K. Gupta confirmed the development. “Yes, funds have been released. It is a little over Rs 31 lakh. The cheque has been given to the divisional forest officer (Anand) and payments will take place once the bank reopens on Tuesday,” he said.

The strike is, therefore, expected to end in a couple of days.

Once it does, trackers — who walk more than 10km a day — can also expect cycles, thanks to the first-of-its-kind largesse of the state forest department, which earlier only doled out biscuits and canvas shoes.

This maiden experiment to increase the mobility of trackers and tiger protection force members has already started rolling with Saturday’s launch of a tendering process for branded cycle companies.

“We have decided to give them cycles with the twin objectives of boosting their morale and increasing their mobility,” Gupta told The Telegraph.

The cycles will be a more-than-welcome bonus in the coming summer months, giving the trackers the motivation to cover the reserve more thoroughly, even alternating between treks and pedals.

GPS devices and CCTV cameras will complement fieldwork for better monitoring.

However, what needs to be done is to get cracking on the bigger picture — ensuring that the Centre’s funds are not locked by state’s bureaucratic apathy — for smooth operations of the tiger abode that faces countless problems, animal and human.

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