NAGPUR: Four months after deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar cleared the formation of special tiger protection force (STPF) for Pench and Tadoba-Andhari tiger reserves, the state finance department has put spanner in the STPF works.
Considering the danger tigers in the wild face and the need for stepping up protection in sensitive areas having source populations of tigers with active involvement of forest dwelling communities, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in February 2009 mandated setting up of STPFs in tiger reserves in the country with 100% central assistance.
However, the state is yet to respond. On December 15, while in the city to attend winter session of the assembly, Pawar had cleared setting up of STPF by sanctioning 224 posts (two battalions of 112 personnel each) after discussing the issue with forest officials. So far, the decision remains on paper. STPF would be headed by an officer of the rank of assistant conservator of forest (ACF) and have RFOs, foresters and forest guards. In the STPF, 30% guards would be from communities around the reserves. They will be entitled to same salary and emoluments as others.
Sources said the finance department has put hurdles in the process by making some irrelevant queries. The department has asked whether the 224 posts will be created temporarily. It has also asked that if Centre stopped giving 100% grants, who will bear the expenses. It wants to know whether these posts would be absorbed in the forest department and if yes, how.
The finance officials have further asked whether there is a provision to relax educational qualification for 30% of the STPF staff that would be from local communities as they would be paid salary equivalent to foresters and forest guards. Sources said, these queries appear frivolous in nature and some (like educational qualification bit) have nothing to do with finance department.
As per the NTCA guidelines, STPF personnel will have to undergo training from police and para military forces. "There is a need to take home ministry's view on the issue," the finance department has said. It has also stated that as per the norms, the STPF recruits should not be above 40 years. On this condition, the NTCA approval will be needed, they mentioned.
Senior forest officials are upset by the irrelevant queries. All the issues were sorted out in the meeting with Pawar. Finance department officials were also present. "Why did they not raise these queries then," they asked. Former PCCF (wildlife) D C Pant had written to additional director general of police (DGP), training, about training STPF personnel. However, police department showed inability to train them.
Top forest officials said money towards salaries of the staff would come from the NTCA. "If, after 10 years, the Centre stops grants, by that time many employees in the department would have retired. Hence, there will be no additional burden on the exchequer. Pawar was convinced and only after that he gave a go ahead to STPF," they said.
Apart from Pench and Tadoba, STPF is to be set up in Dudhwa-Katerniaghat and Corbett in Uttar Pradesh, Ranthambhore in Rajasthan, Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench in Madhya Pradesh, Pakke in Arunachal Pradesh, Bandipore in Karnataka, Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu, Kaziranga in Assam and Similipal in Orissa.