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Women to rhino rescue frontline

Guwahati, June 22: Cheer up, hulks, these girls will protect you.

The Assam government has appointed women as frontline rangers and assistant conservators for the first time, hoping they would replicate their “good job” with other forest departments amid mounting criticism over its failure to save the one-horned rhinos from poachers.

Among the over two dozen forest staff appointed today, five were women — two rangers and three assistant conservators.

R.P. Agarwalla, the state’s chief wildlife warden, confirmed that the concept of chivalry had indeed been tweaked to boost conservation efforts.

“This is the first time the department has appointed women as rangers and assistant conservators. The women have done a good job in the social forestry and research wings in the forest department. In other countries, many women work as frontline staff in forest departments and we wanted to give them scope to do the same work here,” Agarwalla told The Telegraph.

The damsels who would now rush to the rescue of the hulking armour-plated herbivores were among 25 forest staff the department recruited after a gap of over two decades.

Forest and environment minister Rakibul Hussain said the department could not appoint rangers and conservators in the past 25 years because of various constraints. The vacancies, he added, had affected conservation efforts.

“We took all possible initiatives to overcome the constraints that came in the way of appointment of rangers and assistant conservators. In 2012, the government had asked the Assam Public Service Commission (APSC) to conduct the process of appointments for the posts. After one-and-a-half years, appointment letters were given to 10 candidates for the posts of rangers and 15 for assistant conservators today,” Hussain told reporters in Guwahati.

The newly appointed rangers will now go to the Forest Training Institute and Rangers College at Karnody in Sundernagar, Himachal Pradesh, for training. The assistant conservators will join the Central Academy for State Forest Service in Dehradun, Uttarakhand.

The appointments have come at a time the forest department is under attack for failing to protect wildlife. Political parties and organisations, including the All Assam Students’ Union, have demanded the resignation of the forest minister over the rampant poaching of rhinos for their horns. Some 50 rhinos have been killed in Kaziranga in the past two years.

Minister Hussain said his department had written to the public service commission to fill up 45 new posts of rangers and assistant conservators. The APSC has already started the appointment process.

Hussain also said the government would soon appoint 959 frontline staff, including forest guards. “Rangers and assistant conservators will work and coordinate at the grassroots to help wildlife conservation. Rangers are often the first responders to natural or man-made threats to forest areas,” the minister said.

RAY OF HOPE

Forest rangers

• Field-level executors of government decisions

• Patrol forests for protection, observation

• Prevent and detect forest offences

• Should have grasp of forest laws and rules to explain these to people and subordinates

• Thorough knowledge of their beats, principal villages in the neighbourhood of forests, roads and other lines of communication

Assistant conservator of forests

• Ensure regular patrols by forest guards

• Thorough inspection of each beat in a range at least twice a year

The void

• No direct appointment of rangers since 1989

• No direct appointment of assistant conservators since 1986

Killing fields

• 144 rhinos killed since 2007

The pill

• Task force headed by additional director-general of police (special task
force) formed on May 16 with forest and home department officials as members

• Executive staff at Kaziranga, Orang, Pobitora, Dibru-Saikhowa, Nameri and Sonai-Rupai to be increased

• Dispur mulling free ration to all categories of forest staff, including the Assam Forest Protection Force, as incentive

• Allowance provided by the Centre to staff posted in Project Tiger areas likely to be replicated in all wildlife divisions of the state