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Manas funds issue resolved

Guwahati, April 30: The Centre has informed the World Heritage Committee, via the Assam forest department, that the delay in release of funds to Manas National Park has been adequately addressed.

The message was conveyed through the state of conservation report for Manas, which will be discussed in the 38th meeting of the World Heritage Committee to be held in Doha, Qatar, from June 15-25.

In 2012, the committee had asked the Centre to urgently address the issue by approving direct flow of funds from the Centre to the Manas Tiger Conservation Foundation or through other appropriate measures.

Currently, the park receives central funds (from the ministry of environment and forests) through the state government for flagship schemes such as Project Tiger, Biosphere Reserve and Project Elephant.

“The Manas Tiger Conservation Foundation (MTCF) has also been set up. The MTCF ploughs back the revenue generated from tourism directly into park management. It is also authorised to take loans to expedite essential management activities such as maintenance of patrolling paths and surveillance activities, until central funds are received. Thus, the issue of funds flow to the property has been adequately addressed,” the state of conservation report for Manas stated.

The report stated that several emergency measures were taken to combat poaching after seven rhinos were killed in the park since 2011 and the park no longer had the danger tag.

Some of the steps to fight poaching were: establishment and improvement of infrastructure (anti-poaching camps, roads, bridges, communication equipment), intensified patrolling, engagement of additional personnel for enforcement, filling up of vacant positions, capacity building of frontline forest staff and local community engagement.

A series of high-level security meetings were held to ensure greater co-ordination between the forest department, civil administration and the police.

“Seven suspected persons have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the criminal offence and one intruder in the national park was killed in an encounter with forest guards,” the report stated.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority has already admitted that the incidents of rhino poaching in Manas have definitely been a cause for concern and evidence collected from the scene of the crime confirms the use of sophisticated weapons.

The authorities have stated in the report that there is a need to improve inter-departmental co-ordination between the forest and other departments for intelligence sharing and assessing the security measures from time to time.

A committee has been formed at the state level and regular meetings have been held. Staff strength of the park has been enhanced and two mid-level officers, specialised in anti-poaching measures, have been brought in to look at rhino-monitoring strategies.

What the World Heritage Committee says about the poaching incidents in Manas remains to be seen, sources said. These incidents have been a “big blow” to the translocation initiative. The committee has time and again asked the Centre about the steps being taken to remedy the situation.