The Centre will set up a Special Rhino Protection Force (SRPF) to protect one-horned rhinos in Kaziranga National Park and other habitats in Assam, Union Environment and Forests Minister Prakash Javadekar said here Saturday.
Winding up his two-day visit to Assam, Javadekar said the Centre endorsed a “zero-tolerance” stand towards rhino poaching and asked the Congress government in the state to be more proactive. He visited Kaziranga with Assam Forest Minister Rakibul Hussain Friday and also listened to public grievances there.
“This SRPF, fully funded by the Centre, will comprise local youths who know the rhino habitat and have access to vital information about the movement of suspicious people near Kaziranga. The government believes in increasing community participation in protecting wildlife and forests,” Javadekar said.
As many as 22 rhinos have been killed by poachers in Assam in 2014, while forest guards have gunned down 20 poachers in the past eight months, he said. As many as 24 poachers have been apprehended since January.
“Poaching has to be brought down to zero,” he added.
He said that the task force would hold consultations with all stakeholders and come out with a strategy within six months.
On demands that rhino poaching cases be handed over to the CBI, he said two cases were already with the agency and he would find out if more cases could be brought under its purview.
Terming his trip to Assam as “mission rhino”, Javadekar said that the BJP government intended to increase the country’s forest cover from 24 per cent to at least 33 per cent in the next 10-15 years.
Javadekar also said the Centre was likely to release 90 per cent of the Rs 33,000 crore lying in the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAFMPA) to the states soon.