BHUBANESWAR: Even as the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has sent in a joint-team to extend support to tackle wildfire raging in the State, a drastic reduction in Central funds has badly affected key operations in Similipal and Satkosia tiger reserves (TRs) of the State.
Sources said there has been a substantial decline in allocation to two TRs. More than 40 per cent fund has been slashed for Similipal and Satkosia which impacted protection activities. Hundreds of forest protection squad members, known as protection assistants (PAs) were laid off due to shortage of funds which has severely affected forest protection and fire management programmes this year.
The Standing Committee of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in its report presented in Rajya Sabha on March 8 pointed out that MoEF&CC’s budget allocation was reduced by Rs 1,085 crore at the revised estimate (RE) stage due to Covid-19 pandemic which affected various programmes and schemes.
From a Rs 300 crore budget estimate in 2020-21 for the flagship Project Tiger, the revised estimate saw allocation drop by 35 per cent to Rs 195 crore. The actual expenditure by January-end was Rs 179.83 crore. For 2021-22, the budgetary estimate stands at Rs 250 crore.
In the 18th meeting of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) held on December 7 last year, MP and Member of NTCA Rajiv Pratap Rudy had also highlighted the issues of reduction of Project Tiger budget from Rs 300 crore to Rs 195 crore in the current fiscal. Rudy had stated that a large chunk of funds allocated to TRs being spent on employment of local communities as forest watchers, trackers for protection of forest and wildlife, the sudden cut in Project Tiger budget would impact livelihoods of poor and vulnerable people during COVID-19 pandemic.
That apparently has happened. An officer pointed out that funds made available to the TRs in the second phase of the year never came and it was made clear that no reimbursement or replenishment would be made for the financial year. As a result, Similipal TR had to lay off large number of PAs last year, while the situation in Satkosia TR is even worse.
Sources said, lack of funds forced retrenchment of all members of protection squads in territorial divisions of Dhenkanal, Athamallik, Athagarh, Angul, while at least 30 PAs were also disengaged from Satkosia and Mahanadi Wildlife Divisions this year.
“Though Rs 16 crore was proposed for Satkosia, only Rs 3.8 crore was set aside. However, this amount was also not allocated entirely. While Rs 1.76 crore was allocated in the first phase, only 50 pc of the remaining was allocated in second phase. After reduction of funds under Centrally sponsored schemes, we tried to manage things ustiling CAMPA funds. However, it proved insufficient,” said an officer.