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Apathy to courage, bravery

- Nominations for awards missing from Kaziranga

Jorhat, Aug. 12: Kaziranga National Park has failed to nominate even a single person for bravery awards despite forest guards killing 17 poachers this year alone and engaging in many gun battles to foil attempts to kill rhinos at the World Heritage Site.

Sheila Bora, a member of the Prabhakar Barua Trust, which introduced two awards for bravery and awareness at the rhino habitats of Assam, said there have been no nominations from Kaziranga for this year’s awards.

She said the trust has received nominations from Manas and Orang national parks and Pobitora wildlife sanctuary.

This year’s award will be given at a function on the death anniversary of Prabhakar Barua on October 9.

The two awards — in memory of Prabhakar Barua, the first Assamese chief conservator of forests of undivided Assam, a position he held from 1963 to 1976 — comprises Rs 50,000 each and a citation.

The awards, which were introduced in 2005 but withdrawn the following year because of a “lack of transparency” in the nomination process, have been reinstated this year.

The first category of the award — Gor Surakhya Veer Puraskar — recognises exemplary acts by an individual for protection and conservation of rhinos, demonstrating extra efforts beyond the scope of their duty.

The second — Gor Surakhya Sachetak Puraskar — is given to a person residing in the vicinity of the rhino-bearing areas for exemplary work done in mobilising communities for protection and conservation of rhinos, protection of straying rhinos and providing information about poachers.

The nominees could be frontline forest officials and personnel below the rank of range officers, individual community members living in the fringe areas, members of joint forest management committees, members of eco-development committees and students living in the fringe areas.

Barua’s daughter, Sheila, told The Telegraph today that it was surprising that there was no nomination from Kaziranga despite the fact that forest guards of the national park have been doing their bit to protect rhinos.

“Our family has introduced the two awards to encourage frontline staff at the rhino habitats of the state so that the endangered animal is well protected. However, there has been no nomination from Kaziranga, which has witnessed frequent incidents of forest guards engaging in gun-battles with poachers,” she said.

Bhaskar Barua, a conservationist, told The Telegraph that it only shows the lack of commitment on the part of the Kaziranga authorities which had not nominated the names of the forest guards who have been working day and night to protect the rhinos.

“There has been tremendous pressure from poachers at Kaziranga recently and the guards are doing a commendable job, otherwise there would have been rhino killings daily. It was only a couple of days ago that two poachers were killed at Kaziranga,” he said.

These awards to frontline staff give them encouragement to work better and keep them motivated.

“It is very unfortunate not to have any nomination from Kaziranga,” he said.

S.K. Seal Sarma, the divisional forest officer of Kaziranga, said there were several instances of exemplary courage shown by forest guards at Kaziranga who truly deserve an award.

However, the forest department could not nominate their names because of confusion created by the forms issued by the Prabhakar Barua Trust.

“No one is ready to self-assess themselves. We have distributed the forms to forest guards through the range office but we have not received any application for the award,” he said.

In a letter to the principal chief conservator of forests, the official said the nomination forms have been circulated but no nomination, either from officers and staff of Kaziranga or NGO has been received from the concerning range offices for the two awards.