To keep the morale high of the frontline staff, who are the first line of defence against wildlife poaching, forest fires, timber smugglers and other activities that degrade the wildlife habitats in tiger reserves, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has for the first time come out with a proposal to annually reward the best among the unsung heroes.
Anup K Nayak, member secretary, NTCA , said that the reward is mainly for extraordinary efforts put in by the frontline staff in overall tiger conservation. "The move was much-needed. These frontline forest staff risk their lives as they patrol day and night to protect our vulnerable flora and fauna by chasing and confronting timber smugglers or poachers.
The proposal to give rewards to such frontline staff in the ranks of foresters, forest guard and watchers for extraordinary performance was recommended by 2nd technical committee meeting of the NTCA held recently," he said.
As per proposal, a reward of Rs 1 lakh each will be given to two foresters, two forest guards and two watchers/tiger trackers from tiger reserves and tiger bearing areas.
Talking about the award selection criteria, Deputy Inspector General (NTCA) Surender Mehra said that a guideline in this regard has already been prepared. The reward will be given to frontline staff for performing extraordinary work continuously for at least two years. "The nomination will be recommended and forwarded by the State chief wildlife warden," Mehra said adding that the incentive is just one of the many steps that are needed to encourage the staff.
Wildlife activist Sanjay Gubbi said," "these watchers, guards and foresters are critical for wildlife and forest protection. There is no alternative to the old system of foot patrolling as most illegal activities such as poaching or timber smuggling can only be detected through this mode of perambulation."
There are around 50 tiger reserves in the country which are home to 2,967 big cats. A battery of 11,500 staff is manning them.
According to various reports, between 2012 and 2017, India accounted for almost a third (162 of 520) of all ranger (frontline forest staff) deaths, according to the International Ranger Federation. In 2017, of the 100 rangers that died on-duty worldwide, 28 were Indians. Though animal attacks, most of which are accidental, account for the maximum number of ranger deaths in India, murders at the hands of poachers, timber and sand mafias and illegal miners come a close second. Vehicle accidents, drowning and forest fires together constitute the third major cause, say the reports.