Ranchi, Oct. 28: A Centre-sponsored special tiger protection force at Palamau Tiger Reserve comprising ex-army men has not been paid salaries since April when it was constituted, though Rs 2.30 crore earmarked for the reserve is lying idle.
In a reserve where the number of tigers plunged from 38 in 2003 to six in 2012, bureaucratic muddle ensured that no one could touch the cash to even pay personnel supposed to guard the majestic big cats.
No concrete reason has been given as to why the crores for this fiscal, including the Centre’s Rs 1.40 crore and the state’s Rs 90 lakh, can’t be spent.
Sources said central funds reached Jharkhand a month ago. “We sent our plan on time to the forest department. The Centre raised objections. We don’t know what happened, but the money is said to be locked due to discrepancies,” said one.
While powers-that-be at the Centre and state thrash out the mystery, lesser mortals are left penniless. Each of the six tiger protection force personnel was to get Rs 11,500 a month. The salary of all six for six months would have been Rs 4.14 lakh, a fraction of Rs 2.3 crore.
So, the tiger protection force constituted as a high-level security team against poachers, Maoists and trespassers, including cattle grazers, has been reduced to a joke.
Only, officials of the force aren’t laughing.
Salary no-show apart, there are grouses aplenty.
The state forest department was to hire 24 personnel but recruited nine. Of this, six joined. Now, one has resigned.
No salary, shoddy approach towards wildlife conservation and bureaucratic power shows have put all of them in a fix.
The squad in Jharkhand, just like in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh, was supposed to be armed.
Here, they are not. Higher powers-that-be decided to keep the tiger protection force — a so-called commando unit — without weapons like assault rifles, SLRs, LMGs and grenades. They feared Maoists would steal the ammo.
Effectively, trespassers have nothing to be scared of.
“It’s natural that ex-servicemen find the situation intolerable. Plus, jobs such as grassland development, habitat uplift, among others, couldn’t be done,” a source said.
Candour vanishes when people come on record. Divisional forest officer of Palamau Tiger Reserve (core) Premjit Anand said: “I am unaware of the status of funds.”