Guwahati, July 23: It is an open secret. The forest guards in Assam have been fighting against various odds-including outdated arms and irregular salaries-as they protect animals against poachers. However, the recent statement made by the Assam Forest Minister Pramila Rani Brahma in the state Assembly highlighting the daily struggle of forest staff made the entire issue "official".
The Minister said they were still using outdated arms such as .303 rifles and most of the times there was a scarcity of bullets. The minister added that the department had employed casual staff, but unfortunately their salaries were not regular and they did not even get their ration every month.
"The morale of the forest staff is very low. Transit camps are in a dilapidated condition and there is no drinking water facilities. There is also shortage of arms and ammunition," she said.
Moreover, the statement of the minister comes at a time when the state is simply clueless on how to end the large-scale rhino poaching.
A retired forest guard from the famed Kaziranga National Park, home to one-horned rhinos, Putul Deka told OneIndia, "Every day forest guards risk their lives to fight against the poachers. The poachers use sophisticated arms and ammunition to kill rhinos. It is an international network. On the other hand, poor forest guards often don't have a rifle also. Our salary also gets delayed. Our families too have to struggle with us."
Revealing the large-scale rhino poaching in the state, Brahma said that 239 rhinos were killed by poachers from 2001 to July 2016. Experts say the numbers might be more than what the official records highlight.
It looks like the newly-elected BJP government in the state is sincere to solve the issue as Brahma announced few of the measurements to reduce poaching of rhinos.
"It is said that money is sanctioned for uniforms, but they do not get it... How will they survive? I discussed the issue with the chief minister as we are serious about putting an end to poaching," Brahma said.
"We need to modernise the equipment. We need to provide good transit camps, uniforms, shoes and all other facilities. My first priority is to prevent poaching, but I cannot claim that I will be able to fully eliminate poaching," Brahma said.
The minister herself admitted that the poaching is a big international racket operating for rhino horns for its medicinal value.
"In Assam, a horn is sold for Rs 1.5 lakh and above. Once it crosses international border, its value touches crores. In Myanmar, it is Rs 2 crore and it is Rs 3 crore in China. So unless we break this racket, sporadic incidents of poaching will continue," the minister said.
She informed the House that a total of 705 poachers have been identified and 661 of them have been arrested since 2001. Brahma stated that the Centre and the state are equally concerned about recurring incidents of rhino poaching in the state, and that the possibility of a NIA probe is being explored.