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Tribal anti-poaching watchers yet to get due

The Times of India
New Delhi
16 Sep 2016

A quarter century ago, of ficials of the Hill Area Development Programme suggested that tribal youth in the Nilgiris could be roped in to protect the forest and wildlife. When the forest department finally recruited a dozen tribal youths as AntiPoaching Watchers (APWs) in the Nilgiris in the early 1990s, the tribals thought the step would transform their life and give them a decent livelihood. Little did they know that their lives will not see the promised changes despite working in the risky and difficult terrain of forests for several years.

APWs who are in service for several years and work in dangerous terrains under errant weather conditions continue to work like daily wage earners with a meager consolidated pay of `6,750 per month. Many of them in several other districts get lesser than the stipulated amount.

APWs are divided into two g roups. One g roup works round the clock by staying in anti-poaching sheds in interior areas. The other group operates from forest rest sheds, located near the periphery of villages. Members of this group keep a vigil on the activities of poachers who often sneak into the forests in the night.

The risk involved in their job is enormous. Last month an APW died of snakebite while rescuing the reptile from a house in Topslip in Pollachi Range. Till date no compensation has been paid to his family. "The concerned range officer asked his subordinates to record that the youth went to rescue the snake after his duty hours. This was deliberately done to deprive the due compensation to the victim`s family", said Praveen Kumar, general secretary of APW Association.

A senior wildlife officer said the state has nearly 1,200 APWs today, who are covered under a group in surance scheme. He however admitted that the insurance sum and the policy amount could be enhanced in view of the risk involved in the job.

"APWs can be appointed as watchers or guards in the department if the authorities decide to regularise their services in the future," suggested another officer.


Another office bearer of the APW Association said the forest department has already tied up with Apollo hospitals to provide treatment to APWs, especially to those injured in wildlife attack or snakebite. Despite the provision, a majority of such cases are being referred to government hospitals, where the quality of treatment is not very good, he added.


APWs are often at the mercy of senior officers. Kumar says in some places whenever the APWs point out the mistakes of the Range officers, they are arbitrarily transferred to places which are far from their homes. The watcher has to spend at least Rs 200 a day for transportation and food. Jobs of many watchers who have questioned their Range officers have been terminated this way, he adds.


"While permanent employees of the forest department such as watchers, guards and foresters are above 50, the APWs are nearly 20 years younger than the former. Plus, the tribals are familiar with the forest and can comfortably walk for 50 km a day in its tough terrain.This is another reason why we are requesting the government to consider regularising the services of the APWs," said Kumar.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/Tribal-anti-poaching-watchers-yet-to-get-due/articleshow/54355442.cms?