Wildlife trackers posted in the newly created Shetrunji wildlife division in greater Gir area, who have not been paid for the past three months, are now facing the prospect of their services being outsourced as the Gujarat State Lion Conservation Society (GSLCS), a quasi-government body, has not included 23 of these trackers in its annual programme of work for 2020-21. In protest, the wildlife trackers began striking work from Thursday.
“As per the decision taken at a meeting of DCFs organised in this office, posts of 49 trackers and other sanctioned posts are to be filled through outsourcing as per grant allocated in state budget and therefore they (the posts) have not been included in the programme of work of the Gujarat State Lion Conservation Society (GSLCS) for the year 2020-21,” said the letter dated July 1, a copy of which is with The Indian Express, sent by Dushyant Vasavada, chief conservator of forests (CCF) of Junagadh wildlife circle, who is ex-officio member secretary of GSLCS.
Till the previous financial year, the society used to hire 160 trackers. The meeting was held on March 17, and the revelation comes days after GSLCS increased salaries of the trackers by 10 per cent.
The Junagadh wildlife circle includes Gir (east), Gir (west), Sasan and newly-created Shetrunji wildlife divisions as well as Blackbuck National Park in Velavadar of Bhavnagar. Each of these divisions are headed by a DCF (deputy conservator of forests). Shetrunji division, created around a year ago, was carved out of Amreli and Bhavnagar districts and trackers earlier attached with the Amreli social forestry division were placed at its disposal.
GSLCS has been engaging 160 lion trackers on contract basis for the past few years. These contracts run from May to March and are generally renewed in May every year. This year, contracts of trackers posted in other divisions were renewed, except those in the Shetrunji division.
“This is discriminatory. Our counterparts in other divisions will continue to work as contract employees of GSLCS but we will be left to be exploited by outsourcing agencies. The agencies may take a share of our salary… also there’s no clarify if I will be able to retain my job,” said a tracker whose contract has not been renewed this year.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Nisha Raj, DCF of Shetrunji wildlife division, said, “They have not been paid as they are not willing to work on outsourcing basis.” She added that their absence can affect wildlife monitoring in the area.
Wildlife trackers assist the forest department in management of wildlife, especially Asiatic lions in the greater Gir area spread across Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts, keeping a track of movement of Asiatic lions, the endangered species of big cats, and help in rescue and treatment of wild animals. Their monthly salary of Rs 10,000 to Rs14,000, is largely at the discretion of the officer designated by the DCF concerned.
However, 45 posts of trackers deployed along the Pipava-Surendranagar railway line and whose job it is to prevent lion deaths on the railway track find a mention in the PoW of the Society as “labourers from outsourcing agency for wildlife, including Asiatic lion monitoring on Pipavav-Surendranagar railway track” and allocates Rs 49.14 lakh towards their salary. The railway line also crosses the Shetrunji wildlife division, and tracker recruited trough outsourcing agencies have been manning them for the past five years.
The GSLCS is a quasi-government body established in 2007 to ramp up lion conservation efforts by the state government. Principal chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden of Gujarat is its ex-officio chairman while CCF of Junagadh wildlife circle is its ex-officio secretary. Wildlife conservationists are among its members.
The society gets revenue from eco-tourism activity in Gir as well as from donations by corporate houses. After its formation, the ociety started engaging as wildlife trackers those locals with knowledge of habits, behaviour and pattern of movement of wild animals in their respective areas. The society decided to outsource the services of these trackers in 2017 but backtracked after protests.
Vasavada told The Indian Express, “It is only that the pocket from which the salaries are paid changes. Earlier, the society used to pay. Now, it will be paid from another pocket but trackers will have the opportunity to continue doing their work.” He added that the forest department was only following the government policy of engaging Class IV employees through outsourcing agencies.
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