Worried over the protection of Similipal biosphere and Kuldiha wildlife sanctuary, over 500 forest staffers, including foresters and forest guards, are on an indefinite strike from Friday over their demands.
Their strike came a day after over 150 hunters made an unsuccessful attempt to enter the core area of Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) for hunting wild animals. The entry bid was foiled as the forest staff nabbed one poacher with a loaded country-made gun and chased away the hunters.
The national park is in the news for the last couple of years for a series of elephant deaths and decreasing number of Royal Bengal Tigers (RBTs). The forest authorities feared security concerns in the absence of forest staff as during the period tribals enter the forest areas for mass hunting of animals.
STR Deputy Director Bikash Ranjan Dash said the daily wage protection assistants had been engaged to guard the forest areas while the range officers would patrol along the forest routes to keep the hunters at bay.
“Yes, of course, the absence of forest guards and foresters would hamper the protection activities and the hunters may take advantage of it. Still, we have made alternative arrangements to safeguard the forest areas,” he said.
In Balasore district, Vana Suraksha Samiti (VSS) members and plantation workers along with the daily-wage protection assistants have been deployed to guard Kuldiha sanctuary and other forest areas.
DFO Kedar Swain, who is personally supervising forest patrolling and other allied activities said though it would be difficult to protect the vast area with a handful of temporary guards, it was not impossible. “We have also sought the help of local police for exigencies. Our main focus is to control forest fires,” he said.
Meanwhile, the forest staffers under the banner of Odisha Non-Gazetted Forest Service Association (ONGFSA) are sitting on an indefinite strike demanding enhancement of pay scale of forest guards as per the Sixth Pay Commission, regularisation of contractual foresters and forest guards and post upgradation of forest guards, foresters and deputy rangers.
“The strike will continue till our demands are conceded,” said Mayurbhanj circle president Khageswar Sethy.