Forest union threatens to shut tiger reserves
NAGPUR, Tuesday 26th April 2011
NAGPUR: The Maharashtra Forest Guards, Forest Employees and Forest Workers' Sanghatana has threatened to close down Pench, Tadoba-Andhari and Melghat tiger reserves if wages of van majoors are not paid immediately.

Working president of the Sanghatana, Siraj Patel, informed that over 1,500 forest workers (van majoors) in the three tiger reserves had not been paid wages for the past four months. These workers were last paid in December. Patel's threat comes a day before Union minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh is visiting Nagpur for opening the first regional office of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).

Van majoors are backbone of any protected area as mostly they man the protection huts deep inside tiger reserves and conduct patrolling. "It has become a chronic problem but forest officials have failed to address it. NTCA has released the money but why is wildlife wing not paying the workers," Patel asked.

"We will not allow tourists to enter these three reserves, if wages are not paid in eight days," warned Patel. Wildlife wing officials, who did not wish to be quoted, said: "This year tiger reserves did not receive the second instalment under the centrally sponsored scheme (CSS) and hence the problem."

They said NTCA released Rs 41.39 lakh for TATR; Rs 13 lakh for Pench and Rs 61.35 lakh for Melghat towards second instalment on March 31, the last day of financial year. "We could not spend the money in one day. Now, unless Centre revalidates the payment, the funds will be kept in abeyance," official sources informed.

Patel said big talk was being made to save the tigers in the name of tiger capital but both NTCA and state government had failed to address the core issue of releasing wages to workers on time.

State government apathy was worse. The financial year begins from April 1 and MoEF releases its share under CSS in September. Shockingly, state finance department releases a separate GR, usually in January, to release this money.

"It's a vicious circle. As first instalment is delayed, utilisation certificates (UCs) are not submitted in time. Unless UCs for first instalment are submitted, MoEF doesn't release second instalment," officials stated.

Patel alleged at a time when tiger numbers had gone up in the state, no steps were being taken to create space for additional tigers. "There is no capacity building, no proper postings and time-bound promotions. How can you expect the field staff to be motivated and protect the tigers," the veteran union leader asked.