Maoist fear haunts forest staff on tiger census job in Orissa

Maoist fear haunts forest staff on tiger census job in Orissa

Maoist fear haunts forest staff on tiger census job in Orissa

"Yes, the fear of red rebels is very much in our mind. But our dedicated staff have taken it as a challenge," field director of Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) H S Upadhyay said over phone on Friday.

Upadhyay, who has been designated as the co-ordinator for the statewide tiger census, also admitted that the Maoist fear could adversely affect the exercise.

Stating that the forest officials in small groups would undertake the census by using pug mark method and camera trap technique in core and outer area of the STR for three days from tomorrow, Upadhyay asserted that they were hopeful of peaceful completion of the exercise.

Though a small group of jawans belonging to the state's elite anti-naxalite force, Special Operation Group (SOG), were deployed at Gugudia inside the Similipal National Park, they worked under the command of the police department and were not deployed for helping the tiger census, Upadhayay said.

"We have asked the concerned divisional forest officers (DFOs) to take help of local police where required," said S S Srivastava, the Chief Conservator of Forest, (Wildlife).

The tiger census is being conducted in all the 50 forest divisions, including two tiger reserves at Similipal and Sunabeda. Orissa's two tiger reserves, which house about two-third of the total tiger population in the state, has been identified as a Maoist hotbed due to frequent attacks on forest officials and their beat houses.

The merciless killing of a forest guard at Sunabeda forest division last month had sparked off fear in the minds of forest officials who did not feel secure in the jungles, J B Patnaik, the general secretary of Orissa non-gazetted Forest Service Association said.
"We demand arms and security as provided to police personnel in Maoist-hit areas," Patnaik said seeking formation of big groups for undertaking census as against previous practice of deploying three officials in one group.

After the police in neighbouring West Bengal and Chhattisgarh launched anti-Maoist operation, a large number of ultras had reportedly entered the state and had taken shelter in tiger reserve area, an intelligence officer said.

"There is every possibility of red rebels disrupting the tiger census exercise," the official said adding that it was wise to undertake the census without help of police because of security reasons.

They (ultras) might not target forest officials, he felt. However, the ultras had so far killed at least two forest officials besides attacking forest beat houses in the past.