| Safety net: Two rhinos graze at Kaziranga National Park. File picture |
Guwahati, March 8: The Assam government has constituted a committee with senior police and forests officials to ensure better co-ordination in anti-poaching operations at Kaziranga National Park.
Replying to a question raised by AGP legislator Keshab Mahanta, environment and forests minister Rakibul Hussain told the Assembly today that a co-ordination committee has been constituted recently with forests and police officials of three districts — Golaghat, Nagaon and Karbi Anglong — to conduct co-ordinated operations against poachers.
Kaziranga and its adjoining forest areas fall in these three districts.
The minister said the superintendents of police of the three districts and a chief conservator of forests have been included in the committee.
Keshab Mahanta pointed out that the number of rhinos killed in the state has gone up from 10 in 2001 to 22 in 2012.
“This year in the first two months itself 12 rhinos have been killed and if this trend continues then the death toll this year will be higher than last year,” he said.
Other Opposition legislators also expressed grave concern over the spurt in animal poaching in the state.
Hussain admitted the problem and said the state government is taking every possible step to stop the menace.
Describing it as a complicated problem, he said unlike in the past, the poachers are now armed with AK-series rifles and even militants are suspected to be involved in rhino poaching.
The minister said the state government, after taking permission of the Centre, amended the Wildlife Protection Act to enhance the maximum punishment to poachers to life imprisonment. He said the wildlife offences have also been made non-bailable and cognisable.
“Under the provisions of Section 197 CrPC, forest officers and staff have been granted immunity from prosecution without prior sanction of the government,” Hussain said, adding that the forest guards will be armed with sophisticated weapons like AK-series rifles.
He said the proposal to use unmanned aircraft for surveillance in Kaziranga to check poaching has been placed before the Union defence ministry for approval.
“We have also conducted orientation programmes for judges to sensitise them about wildlife crimes,” the minister said.
He also mentioned that the state government has already written to the Centre seeking CBI probe into rhino poaching cases.
Keshab Mahanta and AIUDF legislator Sirajuddin Ajmal were, however, not satisfied with the minister’s reply and demanded that the government must stop poaching of rhinos under any circumstances.
Ajmal even sought the minister’s resignation for failure to curb poaching.
In his written reply to an unstarred question by Sirajuddin Ajmal, Hussain said in 2011, nine rhinos, two elephants and one tiger were poached in the state and in 2012, 22 rhinos and six elephants were poached.
The minister, in his written reply, said this year a total 11 rhino poachers were arrested by the forest department — seven in Kaziranga, one in Orang and three in Manas.
“In addition to the above, seven poachers were arrested by Nagaon police and two by Karbi Anglong police this year, which takes the total number of poachers arrested to 20,” he said.