BENGALURU: Watchers working for Kali Tiger Reserve (KTR) are left in the lurch. At least 300 forest watchers of KTR are desperately waiting for their monthly wages,the payment of which has
become irregular in the last two years. An earlier inquiry report of NTCA on poor status of protection in KTR points out issues such as delayed payments to watchers and deployment of less than five watchers in anti-poaching camps.
Forest watchers attached to anti-poaching camps are usually away from their families for days together as they work in deep jungles to carry out protection work in the core areas of tiger reserves. KTR has 300 forest watchers working across Kulgi, Anshi, Phansoli and four other ranges. Working as a forest watcher for nearly 11 years, Ashwath (name changed) is a worried person as he has not received his wage of `9,500 per month for two months now. “Payment gets delayed every two to three months. This has become a regular thing in the last two to three years. This time, the delay is unbearable,” he said.
In Kali, most watchers belong to either Gawlis or Kunabis. In fact, they work with bare minimum facilities and work 12 hours daily. It is difficult for them to get leave as they are the frontline staffers in the tiger reserve. Most of them do not even have proper footwear or uniforms to operate in the jungles .
Suresh (name changed), another watcher, said, “Working at anti-poaching camp is a 24-hour job. The government talks of social justice but people like us are deprived of even the basic facilities. How do we pay for our children’s tuition fees?”
Senior forest officials admit that there has been a delay in payment of wages to forest watchers in KTR. An official added, “The state government has not released funds for their payment. Last year, we managed to pay their wages from the Tiger Conservation Foundation Fund and later got reimbursement from the government. But this year, the state government has given strict instructions not to use this fund for watchers’ payments.”
Kali Tiger Reserve Fund is allocated by the Centre and the state has to release it in order to pay the watchers. “Compared to Bandipur (`20 crore) and Nagarhole, which have sufficient funds through tourism, Kali fund has only `1.5-2 crore,” a senior official assured.