The Assam government seems to have bowed to growing public outrage
by favouring a CBI probe into cases of rhino poaching, reports
Finally Assam government
has bowed down to the growing public outrages. Following intense public
pressure, the province government of Northeast India, has favoured for
a CBI probe into the cases of rhino poaching at different preserves in
the state. The state chief minister Tarun Gogoi on May 2 declared that
following demands from various socio-environment organizations, the government
has decided to go for a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the
killing of over 30 rhinos in Assam since January 2007.
The civil societies
and the advocacy groups of the region had rigorously raised voices against
the slaughtering of endangered one horn rhinos by poachers since the early
part of 2008. But surprisingly enough, the concerned authority and the
state government preferred to overlook the public resentment. For more
than three months, the wildlife lovers have strongly condemned the authority
of Kaziranga National Park (KNP), which had witnessed the loss of 26 rhinos
to poachers since January 2007. But neither the authority nor the government
had shown the moral courage to admit their incompetence in protecting
the inmates of the celebrated park.
The last week of April
witnessed the slaughtering of two more rhinos in Kaziranga. The forest
guards discovered the bodies of the rhinos, one of them was a calf, inside
the park, but the horns were already chopped off. Even the tigers feasted
half of the bodies of the rhino calf, when the forest guards witnessed
them. It has added the list of rhinos, fallen prey to poachers at KNP,
up to six in this year.
Recognized as a safe
heaven for the rhinos, Kaziranga gives shelter to almost two-thirds of
the total population of one-horned rhinos on Earth. A 1984 census showed
that Kaziranga, which was declared a National Park in 1974, had 1,080
rhinos. The toll increased during 1975 to 1990, nearly 25 per year. The
statistics showed that rhino population was found 1069 in another census
during 1991. The census in 1999 provided more optimistic result as the
number of rhinos soared to 1,552. The last census in 2006 revealed the
number of rhinos in the park at 1,855.
The rhino horn enjoys
great demand in international market as it is considered to contain aphrodisiac
qualities. The heavy animal enjoys great sexual power, as its mating time
is not less than 45 minutes (quite higher than any other animal). Many
people believe that one can achieve the sexual power with the help of
rhino horns. They consider the rhino horns as another
kind of traditional viagra. The horns are also believed to have medicinal
values. The traditional Chinese medicine demands rhino horns, which is
believed to cure fever and stomach ailments fast. China, Taiwan, Thailand,
South Korea and the Middle East are known to be huge markets for illegal
trading of rhino horns. It fetches a few thousand US dollars per kilogram
of horn in the international market.
The park director
Suren Buragohain remained clueless at the increasing incidents of poaching
of rhinos and only parroted his earlier version, "The poachers are
equipped with sophisticated weapons. But our forest guards lack the proper
arms to counter them." However, Mr. Buragohain has earned brickbats
from wildlife advocates as the recent increase in rhino poaching has occurred
during his tenure. Statistics reveal that during his term of around a
year, Kazirnaga lost the highest number of rhinos in a decade.
If the director was
oblivious to the grave threats to rhino poaching in Kaziranga, the Assam
forest minister showed equally insensitive and callous approach to the
issue. All the time, the young minister in Tarun Gogoi's state cabinet,
preferred to ignore the matter. It finally compelled the students union,
environmental activists, journalists' organizations and political leaders
to adopt the path of demonstration against the minister.
It started with Nature's
Beckon, an active environment NGO of the region, which staged a protest
rally on October 1 last year against the authority for its failure to
manage the forest and wildlife of Assam. The concern for the rhinos was
visible in media through the editorials and the letters to the editor
columns. Concerned ordinary citizens and the opposition political parties
also expressed their deep anguish against the continued poaching of rhinos
in Assam, particularly in Kaziranga.
Soon the activists
belonged to All Assam Students Union (AASU), an influential students body
of Northeast, staged demonstrations throughout Assam on February 2, protesting
against the authority's failure to protect the rhinos. The venues included
the offices of the forest departments in all parts of Assam. The AASU
advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya, an aggressive
student leader, demanded the resignation of Rockybul Hussain, the forest
minister of Assam 'for failing to take adequate steps to stop this heinous
crime against a national treasure'.
Lately, the AASU activists
organized a citizens' meet at Kohora near the Kaziranga park, to hammer
on the authority on its failure to protect the rhinos. The daylong meet
on February 24, which was attended by various pressure groups, resolved
to emphasize on a high level probe to catch the real perpetrators behind
Various speakers in
the crowded meeting, which was inaugurated by an eminent Assamese author
Arup Kumar Dutta with the children novel 'The Kaziranga Trail' fame, highlighted
the demand for a special task force, equipped with modern weapons for
protection of flora and fauna, an annual census of rhinos and a citizen
monitoring committee involving the indigenous people to keep an eye on
the wildlife. The state forest minister was accused of non-performance
by most of the speakers and the chief minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi was
also targeted by them for his lingering silence on the issue only to safeguard
his ministerial college.
is however made by the director of Nature's Beckon. Talking to this writer,
Soumyadeep Datta claimed that the forest department of Assam was itself
involved with the illegal trade of rhino horns. "We have authentic
information that Assam forest department had sold more than 300 rhino
horns even after India adopted the wildlife protection act in 1972. We
can give the relevant statistics of the sold rhino horns in details as
29 (during 1971-72), 13 (1972-73), 19 (1973-74), 40 (1974-75), 18 (1975-76),
27 (1976-78), 42 (1977-78), 63 (1978-79), 63 (1978-79), 61 (1979-80),"
Mr Datta revealed.
In fact, the young
activist came out with such an apprehension more than two months back.
Addressing the media persons at Guwahati press club on February 4, Mr
Datta commented, "We suspect that a large share of the wildlife parts,
which are being sold in the international markets, made way from the forest
department's stock due to the manipulation and corrupt practices of some
dishonest forest officials."
So we want to a probe
(preferably by Central Bureau of Investigation) on the stock of animal
parts in the custody of Assam forest department, as it is assumed that
some precious parts of rhinos, elephants, tigers and leopards had gone
for international markets from the official stock of the department, Mr
In India, poaching
is a punishable offence with up to seven years' imprisonment. India has
been a member to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
since 1976 and hence, in principle at least, is bound by all its efforts
to eliminate International trade in wildlife and wildlife parts, he added.
As the controversy
gained momentum, one rhino was slaughtered at Kaziranga on February 5,
which created a huge public uproar throughout the region. Under pressure,
the forest minister Mr Hussain rushed to Kaziranga and ordered to deploy
additional 100 armed guards in the park. Compelled by the situation, the
minister even disclosed that he had no reservation against a CBI enquiry
into the entire issue of poaching at the National parks of Assam.
The demand for a CBI probe into the killings of rhinos was also highlighted
during a Nagorik Sobha (citizens' meet), which was organized by a local
journalist group. The Journalists' Forum, Assam, during its meeting on
February 13 urged the state chief minister 'to break his silence on the
issue and let the people know his government's stand and the steps he
has taken, if any, to stop the menace'. In one of its resolutions, the
meeting asserted that the incumbent forest minister had miserably failed
to protect the rhinos and prevent their poaching and hence no longer he
remained 'fit for the job'.
The concern for the
rhinos was also expressed by a group of non-resident Assamese (Indian),
who joined the chorus to save the rhinos. The Friends of Assam & Seven
Sisters (FASS), in a recent statement, supported the demand for a credible
and high level enquiry into the ongoing killings of the precious animals.
"We think volumes
have been written and spoken about the ineffectiveness of the present
measures to protect the rhinos in KNP and other sites. Now it is time
to act. We urge for an immediate CBI investigation into the ongoing killings
of rhinos, and take disciplinary actions against the officials and individuals
responsible for the lack of protective actions," commented Rajen
Barua, CMD of FASS stated. Speaking to this writer from New York, Mr Barua
added, "Since the state government has failed miserably in its duties,
the administration of the KNP should immediately be placed under military
rule for the time being with strict orders to treat the poachers as terrorists.
More over, a citizen's vigilance committee should be formed to monitor
situation on a regular basis in the national parks."
citizens, political party members, and media in general have all expressed
their deep anguish against the continued slaughtering of rhinos in Assam,
particularly at Kaziranga. The newspaper readers and television viewers
had a shocking experience in January when they were exposed to visuals
of a wounded rhino at Kaziranga. A mother rhino, which
had already lost her baby to poachers for its horn, was shown falling
victim to poachers. The poachers cut her horn when she was alive. For
the next two days the rhino suffered with severe wounds on the mouth and
finally she succumbed to injuries.
But even after the
escalating public resentments, the state government remained silent on
the issue for all the time. The chief minister, Mr Gogoi, who is otherwise
outspoken, avoided the issue while talking to media persons. The state
forest minister also continued to cover up his face. But finally the public
censure has won the battle, as the Assam government had bowed down. There
was however wild allegations that the Congress led government always put
a deaf ear to the public grievances. But in respect of rising incidents
of rhino poaching and public protests in Assam, the government found it
in a difficult position to ignore the public furies for longer period
and finally goes with the people's mandate.