By Wasim Rahman
Dispur proposes 1000 men, Delhi 100
The plan to raise an elite force for protection of rhinos in Assam with central funding has run into rough weather following differences between the state government and the Centre over the number of personnel to be recruited.
The Centre wants to raise the force with 100 personnel while Assam wants to start the force with a strength of 1,000.
Union minister of state (independent charge) for environment, forests and climate change, Prakash Javadekar, who had visited Kaziranga National Park in September last year while touring Assam, had announced a fund for the formation of a special rhino protection force, comprising youths from the surrounding areas of the park, after discussions with several organisations.
He had asked the state government to submit a proposal to the Centre in this regard.
Assam environment and forest minister Atuwa Munda told The Telegraph today that his department had prepared a proposal to raise the special force to protect rhinos and submitted it to the Centre in April.
He said according to the proposal, 1,000 youths were to be recruited, trained with modern techniques, provided proper infrastructurefor high mobility on land and water and armed with sophisticated weapons and communications system for the exclusive force.He said Rs 250 crore had been estimated for raising the force.
However, the Centre last month asked the state government to start with recruiting 100 persons and did not give any assurance for expansion.
"The Centre has reduced the number of the force drastically, which we think will not serve the purposeas the park area is over 800 square km, covering four districtsand the south and the north banks of the Brahmaputra," Munda said.
Moreover, the rhino population, estimated at 2,401 in the last census carried out in March this year, is spread over the park and needs to be constantly monitored as the animals often move out of the park's boundary through the saporis (sandbars).
The minister said the proposal of recruiting 1,000 men and the estimate had been prepared after proper research. "Undertaking piecemeal measures will not yield results," he said.
Munda said Dispur has written to Delhi saying it would go ahead with the plan only if the Centre agrees to recruit a thousand personnel.
He hoped the Centre would reconsider its decision, going by the concern it has shown over rhino poaching.
Sources in the forest department said 10 rhinos have been killed in Kaziranga so far this year while the park's forces have killed 15 poachers and arrested 45. A large number of arms (more than 10) and ammunition (31 rounds) have also been recovered.
Most of the 32 rhinos killed in Assam last year and the 41 in 2013 were in Kaziranga, they added. Increase in rhino poaching in the past few years has triggered massive protests in the state.
While campaigning in Assam for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Narendra Modi, then a prime ministerial candidate, had criticised the state government on the issue.
Rakibul Hussain, forest minister since 2006 till he was replaced by Mundain the ministerial reshuffle by chief minister Tarun Gogoi in January this year, had drawn severe flak despite the government raising an exclusive forest battalion to guard wildlife and amending a forest law to give more powers to forest guards.
Nagaland governor P. B. Acharya, who is also in charge of Assam, has also voiced concern over rhino poaching.