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Tiger protectors also need protection

Article on how funds meant for staff welfare @ Ranthambhore has been siphoned off by some biggies in the department, published recently in the newspaper:
 Tigers missing from the Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan may be old news. But the latest to make news in the premier tiger reserve is the “disappearance” of above Rs 25 lakh from the Staff Welfare Fund, created to provide urgent financial relief to the front-line staff in times of crisis and emergency.
Part of the money was raised from the sale of about 5,500-6,000 copies of “The Ultimate Ranthambhore Guide”, a book published and co-authored by Sanjana Kapoor priced at Rs 175 each.  The bulk of the fund was, however, raised from handling charges levied on tourism activities and Safari trips in the park.
With the money allegedly diverted for “non-welfare activities” like the construction of anicuts, ponds, bore wells etc without any tender, the intended beneficiaries of the fund have been left high and dry. The families of at least 10 deceased staff during the last two years could not be paid money for the funeral while the ailing staff lacks the funds for treatment.
The brainchild of then DFO Ranthambore GV Reddy, the Ranthambore Staff Welfare Society was constituted to reach out to the ground-level field staff, including forest guards, cattle guards, foresters etc.
“The fund raised from the local level was purely meant to cater to their needs considering the difficult situations they are constantly exposed to”, said Reddy who is presently the Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF), Kota. The fund was expected to meet the immediate needs of the affected till there was compensation available from the Government, he added.
Giving a boost to the fund collection drive were theatre personality Sanjana and her tiger conservationist husband Valmik Thapar. “We could raise nearly Rs 9 lakh- Rs 10 lakh from the books sold”, says Rajesh Kumar Sharma, a senior member of the board. However, in a blessing of sorts for Society, the forest department decided to outsource the handling charges for park Safaris @ Rs 5 and Rs 10 for small and large vehicles respectively.
“Unfortunately, the fund could hardly benefit us”, lamented Sharma. It got diverted for various construction works and other activities in the park, which otherwise should have been carried out from other available sources, he added.
While stressing that the money was not meant for such type of work, the sources further pointed out, “Though the money was for our welfare, our consent was not taken in most cases on the expenses incurred and the money got drained out rapidly,” they complained.  A balance of Rs 83,000 is all that is left today, said sources.
It is much easier to withdraw the money from this fund, as there is less accountability involved (than for instance from the Ranthambore Foundation) and the staff can be coerced to submission, the sources added. As a result, the beneficiaries are left in dire straits.
A forest guard who did not wish to be named said that he had sustained serious injuries after being hit by the local grazer community near the park and now is struggling with paralysis on the left side of his body. “Today, at least Rs. one lakh is required to continue the treatment, but where is the money?” he asks.
The Chief Wildlife Warden UM Sahai, however, expressed ignorance on the diversion of funds. “I will see to it”, he said. Despite repeated attempts, the present DFO YK Sahoo could not be contacted for his comments.


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