BBP's animal-keepers seek regularisation of their service, move HC

BBP's animal-keepers seek regularisation of their service, move HC

Animal-keepers at Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP) have approached the High Court seeking directions to the Zoo Authority of Karnataka to consider them on a par with kavadis and mahouts. Kavadis and mahouts are Group D employees working with elephants under the forest department. A petition has been filed by Suresh and 55 others who have been working in the BBP on contract for many years as administrators, animal-keepers, watchmen, drivers, electricians, plumbers, cooks, gate-keepers, ticket examiners, solar operators, store-keepers, sweepers and assistants.

The petitioners have contended that in their years of service at the park, they have gained experience and special knowledge about wild animals at the BBP. Most of the workers have experience of over 15 years and have been working for more than 10-12 hours a day, but are deprived of medical or retirement benefits.

The petitioners have sought directions to the Zoo Authority of Karnataka to frame Cadre and Recruitment Rules or include them under the Karnataka Forest Department Recruitment Services (Recruitment) Rules. Kavadis and mahouts are included under these rules. The petitioners have said that despite several pleas to the government to regularise their services, no action has been taken.

 A master plan proposed by the Central Zoo Authority for BBP in December 2014 recommended 208 posts but there are already 200 contract workers at the park. The petitioners have said that in the Supreme Court order in Karnataka Government versus Umadevi’s case, there were principles laid down that if appointments are made on contract when there are vacancies, the workers on contract are entitled to benefits as they are eligible candidates. They have also contended that though mahouts were regularised in Mysuru Zoo in 1990 and in 2013, the petitioners were never given similar benefits.

The petitioners have approached the High Court seeking interim relief by restraining the Zoo Authorities and the forest department from terminating their services. They have also sought directions to the authorities not to cut their increment and benefits which they are entitled to by virtue of eligibility, during the pendency of the writ petition.

Justice A N Venugopala Gowda, hearing the petitioners, ordered issuance of notice to the zoo authorities and to the forest department and have directed the government counsel to get original documents relating to zoo-keepers’ recruitment. The judge adjourned the next hearing to October 20.

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