Forest guards and fire watchers play a critical role in protecting tigers from poachers in Karnataka, by patrolling the inside of the thick forests.
However, a majority of them, who are employed on daily wages in crucial tiger reserves, have not been paid their salaries for the last six months.
The daily wage workers employed in wildlife sanctuaries, such as MM Hills, Bhimgad, Pushpagiri, Talacauvery, Brahmagiri, etc, have reportedly not been paid salaries for the last few months.
With salaries paid to them once in five to six months, they are finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet, with some looking at alternative forms of livelihood.
“This could derail anti-poaching efforts in the tiger reserves. Nearly half of the funds disbursed as salaries by the government to daily wage employees vanish into thin air. Every daily wage worker is entitled to a daily wage of Rs 259. But when on the day the salary comes, they get wages ranging from Rs 2,500 to Rs 5,000 depending on the whims and fancies of the disburser,” alleged a renowned conservationist on the condition of anonymity.
Apart from the delay in the payment of the salaries, the daily wages are not being credited to their bank accounts, as per the rules.
In December 2011, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) in a letter had directed the authorities concerned to credit the daily wages to their bank accounts. But even to this day salaries are given in cash through rangers to the daily wage workers.
However, daily wage workers in the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary are getting their salaries directly into their bank accounts.
The daily wage labourers have been raising their voice against this irregular and partial payment of salaries.
“De-motivation of the frontline staff would adversely affect the daily patrolling and enforcement measures planned for the protection of the wildlife reserves. These reserves currently face a huge threat from poachers (both local and foreign), timber logging, forest fires, unregulated tourism, fragmentation and encroachment to name a few. The approaching summer months require arduous efforts to curb forest fires and such irregularities could derail enforcement efforts. Discontentment among temporary staff may provoke them to support illegal activities,” the conservationist said.