BENGALURU: The death of Nagarahole National Park (NNP) director S Manikandan has brought another issue pertaining to reserve forests to the fore: the lack of adequate personnel to man the state’s national parks and mitigate man-animal conflict. The data available with The New Indian Express shows that at Nagarahole, 34 per cent of the 386 sanctioned posts were vacant - a majority of those being ground level staff such as forest watchers. A similar pattern was observed in Bandipur Tiger Reserve.Experts say the sanctioned strength for the reserves is inadequate and have urged the government to increase the strength of ground level staffers. This will help in mitigating the growing man-animal conflict around the largest reserve forests in the state.
NNP (642 sqkm) and BTR (874 sqkm) have a combined area of 1,516sqkm. However, the number of ground-level staffers sanctioned to the reserves such as deputy range forest officer (DRFO), forest guard and forest watcher was a mere 455. In terms of area - assuming that all the posts are filled - each ground staff member in these reserve forests has to monitor roughly three-and-a-half sqkm of reserve forest.
Of the 68 posts sanctioned for DRFOs in these reserves, only 22 - 13 in BTR and nine in NNP - were filled. At Nagarahole, 28 of the 38 DRFO posts have remained vacant. Similarly, of the 168 sanctioned forest watcher posts, 89 (53 per cent) remained vacant. In NNP, 49 of the 78 watcher posts were vacant and at BTR, 40 of the 90 watcher posts were not filled.
In total, 148 of the 455 posts of ground level staffers were vacant - a larger portion of it in Nagarahole. It can be noted that a lack of perambulation by ground staffers at D B Kuppe Forest Range was blamed as one of the causes for Manikandan’s death.
H C Kantharaju, former director of BTR, told The New Indian Express that the issue of staff for reserve forests was addressed by the Deepak Sharma Committee. The committee, he said, had submitted a report recommending the reorganisation of the Forest Department. Following the report, new forest divisions and ranges were added to improve administration. “It is yet to be implemented completely,” he said.
According to the state government, steps are being taken to hire 15 forest guards in BTR, 20 in NNP and 20 watchers each for both the reserves. Sources said a notification will be issued soon to fill the posts under direct recruitment.
“Apart from it, the state government has approved the creation of 3,085 additional posts in the Forest Department between the years 2019-20 and 2023-24. A total of 1,500 forest guards and 751 forest watcher posts will be created and priority will be for BTR and NNP, when filling the posts,” the source added.