By M. Raghuram
Non-payment of salaries to labourers part of anti-poaching efforts, and misuse of funds allocated to the state for tiger conservation could threaten conservation efforts.
It was a matter of pride when the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) ranked Karnataka as the No. 1 state in tiger population in its latest census. But the euphoria was dampened when the NTCA expressed its displeasure over the way the state forest department was utilising the funds allocated to the state for tiger conservation.
Take the example of Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve (DATR) in Uttara Kannada district, one of the youngest tiger reserves in the country. Identified as a reserve that had the potential to play a major role in tiger conservation, the reserve is now caught in red-tape, financial bungling and low morale of staff working in anti-poaching camps.
The temporary and daily wage labourers working in the DATR, reportedly, have not been paid salary for six months. Senior officials have also been accused of tampering with records – like showing the existence of non-existent anti-poaching camps – to siphon away funds routed to DATR by the NTCA.
The issue of non-payment of salaries is becoming a major hindrance in the anti-poaching efforts at the reserve.
As per orders of the NTCA, payment of salaries to daily wage labourers should be done through account transfer and account payee cheques only and every temporary labourer is entitled to Rs226 per day, which amounts to Rs7,000 per month. In reality, watchers in DATR are paid Rs5000-5500 as monthly salary by cash, say conservationists. It has been alleged that the rest is pocketed by higher officials. In addition, the frequency of payment also varies with each range and depends on the whims and fancies of forest officials. More....