| An elephant at the Simlipal national park. The Orissa government has decided to appoint forest guards on contract which could affect wildlife. File picture by Sanjib Mukherjee
Bhubaneswar, Nov. 3: Amid cries of concern over Orissa’s fast vanishing forest cover and wildlife population, the government has appointed foresters and forest guards on one-year contract citing funds crunch.
Forest guards and foresters are key foot soldiers in the protection of forests and wildlife conservation.
Environmentalists fear that the contractual appointment would further make it easy for poachers and timber smugglers to gain easy entry to the protected forests, sanctuaries and national parks.
In the last two years the state has lost 472 sq. km of forest as per the Forest Survey of India Report. In the same period, there has been a decline of 12 sq. km of mangroves.
Last month, the government floated advertisements to fill up the vacant posts of 941 forest guards and 510 foresters on a year’s contract. The foresters would get a meagre consolidated remuneration of Rs 4,000 per month and the forest guards Rs 3,000. The recruitment process has already started in many forest circles, among them Koraput.
The state has over 4,000 forest guards and 1,700 foresters, most of whom are on the wrong side of 40. The government plans to appoint more foresters and guards on contract as more of their ilk retire.
Since forest guards and the foresters play the most crucial role in saving precious wildlife species such as tiger and forest protection, ecologists and wildlife activists are upset with the government which they feel would compromise law enforcement. “They are soldiers of the highest order, fighting to defend nature. Those who join would get a measly pay and would hardly be motivated to protect the forests as they know that their performance would not lead to promotion or pay hike. On the contrary, there is every danger of them joining hands with the timber smuggling mafia and wildlife poachers,” said wildlife activist Biswajit Mohanty.
“These are law enforcing posts and should not be compromised with. Would the government appoint police constables and inspectors on contract'” he argued.
Forest and environment secretary S.P. Nanda defended the government, saying it was a policy decision keeping the resource crunch in mind. “The financial implication of paying salary and pension of the foresters and forest guards is very large. Besides the same policy is being followed in other departments,” he said.
Nanda claimed job insecurity would motivate the contract staff to work harder and produce better results.
Belinda Wright of Wildlife Protection Society of India scoffed at the reasoning. “Does the government think it is an intelligent thing to do' Does that mean wildlife is temporary' That fact is that there is a wildlife crunch in Orissa’s jungles. Once the wildlife becomes extinct, no amount of money can bring them back,” she told The Telegraph from her Delhi office.
Wright suggests that the government should deploy well-trained and well-paid forest guards rather than ill-paid ones who have little or no job security. “I believe Orissa has a wildlife crisis in its hands. The tigers and elephants are vanishing from the state’s forests. Contract appointments are not the answer,” she said.