Things are hotting up in the wildlife sector in Assam, in what may be a major embarrassment for the state.
Apparently, a high ranking forest official illegally spent over a crore of rupees from a Tiger Fund on a President’s visit to Kaziranga National Park in February last year.
Things haven’t been going well in Kaziranga National Park under the stewardship of Assam principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) and Head of Forest Force (HoFF) MK Yadav. There are various anomalies in the functioning of the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) and in the wildlife wing of the forest department, reveals a ‘Right to Information’ reply.
The state government had promoted 1989 batch IFS officer MK Yadav principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) and chief wildlife warden, (Assam) in February last year. Prior to this, he was the additional principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) and chief wildlife warden.
In an report published by Northeastern media, funds from the Tiger Conservation Fund (TCF), which are to be used only for conservation, have been indiscriminately spent for non-permissible works in KNP under the orders of PCCF MK Yadav, who also holds the charge of Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW).
Tiger Money Plundered
Wildlife Activist Rohit Choudhary, Assam’s most famous defender of wildlife, dug out the information from a reply to a Right to Information (RTI) query.
Around Rs 1.1 crore was spent on former President Ram Nath Kovind’s visit to Kaziranga National Park (KNP) in February last year. The amount was spent from the corpus meant to be used for the conservation of tigers.
Rhinos or Rabbits?
According to a media report, there are also allegations that rhino census figures in Kaziranga National Park have been fudged in consecutive years, with MK Yadav at the helm of affairs as CWLW. For example, in compartment 5C of Agratoli Range, five rhinos seen during the Rhino Census 2022 were allegedly announced as 83 rhinos.
“The details of fudging have now been revealed by the Kaziranga officials, which has put the Government of Assam to great embarrassment on international forums,” said a forest official requesting anonymity.
As per the 2015 estimate, the number of rhinos in Kaziranga was 2401, while it was 2411 as per the 2018 estimate. However, in the 2022 estimate, the number of rhinos was 2600 plus. This meant an increase of over 189 rhinos despite the 400 officially recorded deaths. “If 2411 rhinos recorded in 2018 have to multiply to 3000 (so that 400 of them could die), they have to be mating day and night in disregard to the mating season and mating habits,” said the official.
The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has recently sought a “factual report” from the CWLW on the rhino population enumeration, conducted in the Kaziranga National Park in March 2022.
The Environment Ministry sought the report following a complaint filed by Rohit Choudhury, alleging anomalies in the estimation of the rhinos in the national park.
According to Choudhury, the rhino population estimation in the Kaziranga National Park in 2022 was inflated by manipulating survey data sheets. He says data sheets from the enumeration across the 84 compartments of the national park showed that the actual count of rhinos was 2,042.
But this figure was “adjusted” after a sample survey in some randomly selected compartments to show 2,613 rhinos —an increase of 200 from the 2,413 rhinos estimated in 2018, the activist maintains.
He said the survey data sheets were doctored to “mislead the government and the public on the actual number of rhinos” in the national park.
There are allegations that the number of media persons involved in the Kaziranga rhino census conducted in March, 2022 was manipulated.
The CWLW announced that 49 media representatives were involved in the 14 rhino population estimation 2022, which was not true. To match the lie, inflated food bills were fabricated. Later two different sets of food bills with differing figures became available in the public domain.
Trafficking of Elephants
Trafficking of captive elephants is going on unhindered in Yadava’s reign as Chief Wildlife Warden.
A few cases of adult elephants being transported without microchips, or with freshly installed microchips, have come to light. In one such case, elephants, which were transported to Gujarat in a truck, were intercepted and found to be without a microchip by the West Bengal Forest department.
Rohit Choudhury deploys the powerful Right to Information Act (RTI) to protect the biodiverse landscapes of the Kaziranga National Park, Manas National Park and a host of lesser-known Protected Areas. Coming from the humble town of Bokakhat in Assam, Rohit has successfully fought several battles against the violation of wildlife laws in Kaziranga, Manas Tiger Reserve (both World Heritage Sites), Deepor Beel wetland (a Ramsar Site) and surrounding areas.
PREPARED BY NEWSNET INTERN SIMON MARBANIANG FROM AVAILABLE MEDIA REPORTS