Monday, July 20, 2009

Pachpute ignores wildlife areas again

Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN 20 July 2009, 02:05am IST

NAGPUR: Is forest minister Babanrao Pachpute waiting for a Sariska or Panna to happen in the three tiger reserves, Tadoba-Andhari, Melghat and

Pench, and other protected areas (PAs)? Apparently so, because the minister has haphazardly transferred officials recently, without regard for continuity at postings and also left some very important posts without officers.

Pachpute effected over 350 transfers in three days recently. This included over 240 range forest officers (RFOs), and the field director and conservator of forests of the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR). TATR field director SH Patil has been shifted out, but there is no replacement leaving Tadoba headless. Similarly, over a dozen RFOs from wildlife areas were shifted without any replacements.

The worst affected reserve after the transfers would be TATR and Pench. TATR will be back to square one as Tadoba RFO KR Sonawane, who had joined reluctantly and not even completed a year, has been shifted to Uran (Thane). There is no replacement for him.

Also, Moharli RFO AD Patthe is on the verge of promotion as ACF so this post is also expected to fall vacant soon. Similarly, RFO (protection) GN Pise is to retire soon. Overall, of the four RFOs in TATR, only Kolsa RFO DP Chondekar has been replaced with RP Kamble from Pandharkawda (Yavatmal). Kamble has not joined his new posting yet.

At Pench tiger reserve, the situation is no better. Two RFOs Anil Waghmare of anti-poaching squad and S T Londhe of east Pench have been shifted to Paoni and Kuhi respectively, without any replacements. West Pench RFO Anil Nimje is on the verge of being promoted as ACF and his post too will become vacant soon. These transfers are all the more surprising since Pench is grappling with the chronic problem of fishing, and both Pench and Tadoba are high on the hit-list of poachers. These will become more vulnerable without RFOs.

At TATR, the then PCCF (wildlife) B Majumdar had in fact announced he would close the park for tourists as there were no RFOs. Now, even Pench is heading for a similar situation.

This, though, is not only with regard to Pench & TATR, other PAs too have been neglected in postings. In Naxal-hit Bhamragarh sanctuary in Gadchiroli, RFO HM More has been transferred but there is no replacement. Similarly, RFO (protection) BJ Mandhre with Chaprala wildlife sanctuary has been shifted to Bramhapuri, but has not been replaced. In Chaprala (Allapalli), ACF MN Khojre, who has been on leave for an year, has been posted.

In other regressive steps, RFOs without any knowledge of wildlife management are being dumped in PAs. Among the eight PAs in Nagpur Wildlife Circle, of a total 17 RFOs only three are trained in wildlife. In a clear indication of manipulation in transfers, there is no RFO with the CCF (wildlife) office for the past 18 months. SB Tarsekar, who was transferred to the CCF's office last year, has now been shifted to Kuhi as part of the social forestry department (SFD) without getting his earlier order cancelled.

According to sources, PAs in Nagpur circle are the not only ones being sidelined in postings. The list shows that in Melghat tiger reserve, Yawal and Bhimashankar sanctuaries, and the Chandoli national park, no replacements have been sent in lieu of those transferred. Interestingly, almost all RFOs shifted from wildlife areas have managed to get postings in territorial areas, which are considered to be lucrative.

Pachpute, who decides the postings, seems to have gone back on his promise made in November that wildlife areas will get weightage in postings. When the issue was raised with him on Sunday, Pachpute said, "The postings will be made soon. As far as the post of field director of TATR is considered, the chief minister had some queries. Besides, there were some technical problems. We will issue the orders in a day or two." Pachpute gave a similar reply when the issue of vacant TATR posts was taken up with him.

Interestingly, all this is happening despite a public interest litigation (PIL) filed before the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court. Conservationists say it is the only the high court which can save the wildlife areas now. "The vacant posts in the high-profile parks have put a big question mark over protection. At a time when poachers are targeting tiger reserves, key posts being left vacant show a complete lack of seriousness on the part of the minister," say conservationists.

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