Apoorva Joshi

PhD student - Information and Media; Environmental Science and Policy @Michigan State University

Independent journalist -

Environment, Science, International

Updates from Bandhavgarh- the Strike of Forest guides

Protest against- bureaucracy, dictatorship, corruption,

& monopoly in park management.

“Guide for Wildlife” M.P. Project Guide Union.

Following, is the letter written by the guides of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve’s Tala Zone to the PCCF regarding their going on strike and the reasons behind doing so. The information contained in the letter is authentic and names of officials of the Forest Department as well as names of the guides involved have been left out on purpose.

To. Date 06/02/2010

Principal Chief Conservator of Forest

M.P.Govt.

Bhopal

Subject: Injustice with the guides of Tala main gate.

Notice

Dear Sir,

We have been providing our services to tourists as Free Lance Guides since last 10-15 yrs and this is our sole income for our survival. But now park management has appointed 15 new guides without prior permission of the Government and we are losing our livelihood. We 40 guides are not happy with this because this greatly reduces our chances of earning our livelihood hence we request that this appointment of new guides be cancelled as was done before with the Bamera guides.

1. We guides at Tala gate are working here since early 80s. Since the day we started working as guides we have been connected with Conservation and helped the department in Fire Protection and other conservation activities. Now we dedicated guides are facing a problem of survival due to recession and on top of that the department has just added 15 guides of Gohani gate in the roster of Tala gate. This severely dilutes our chances of earning our living.

2. Guides that are local and trained by the forest department are also told by the Park Director that enrolment is only for Gohani gate. You apply when there is a requirement of guides at Tala Gate. Park Officers have appointed their kin as guides at Gohani gate. By this the locals have lost the chance of employment.

3. This year, the average of vehicles entering the Park per day is hardly 20-25 so the 40 guides of Tala are facing a hard time to earn their living. Also, the Tourism Ranger is not missing any chance of making money illegally. There is a case of appox. Rs. 40 Lakh that he made in last year’s Tiger show. This case needs to be enquired properly through a magisterial enquiry.

4. Officers want to enrol their kin as guides and they say that till the time these old guides are not sacked, we can’t appoint our kin here. Assistant Director and Tourism Ranger are harassing guides every day.

5. Malicious working of the park officials is proved in Bamera Tigress case where they put the innocent people behind bars and framed them as poachers. People saw how an empty bottle of poison was thrown by the official himself at the spot and an innocent villager was blamed for this. Park Director is solely responsible for this. When we raised this issue with the department, they threatened us saying that they will close the Tala gate for tourism “to teach (us) guides a proper lesson through starvation”.

6. This park will not have any animals left here if the Tala gate is closed or the tourism is stopped. It is patrolling through tourism that saves the park.

7. There are only 45 vehicles allowed in Tala zone but the Tourism in-charge allows other vehicles [more than 45] after receiving facility charges from them. He writes “VIP” on the guide receipt, takes entry money from them and puts it in his own pocket.

8. On 3rd Feb, bait was offered to a Tiger inside the park. This is illegal! Have they taken the permission from the government? This should be enquired.

9. We do not get any kind of employment in the monsoon. Money from the guide job is our sole revenue for the survival of our families as well as ourselves. If we are harassed like this then our survival will become more difficult in this rural area.

Hence all guides here request that this matter be sorted out in next 5 days otherwise we have no other option except to go on a strike that can turn into a hunger strike and a fast.

All Guides of Tala.

Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve,

Madhya Pradesh,

India.

11th February, 2010 :

UPDATES from Bandhavgarh:

This morning at 5:30, the guides of Tala went on strike. All 41 guides of Tala have gone on strike and even then, the Director said that if the guides want to go on strike, they can. He said that irrespective of their strike, tourists would go in as usual. However, according to the rules of the Park, no tourist or even VIP vehicle is allowed to enter the Park without a guide.

17 vehicles have entered the Park today and 16 of them, without a guide. One guide was drunk and the Director took advantage of his intoxicated state by sending him in one of the 17 vehicles. Obviously, because of severe shortage of manpower, he had to resort to sending this drunk guide in the Park.

Since 5:30am, no Forest officer has bothered to come and visit the place and try talking to the guides on strike. Neither the Director, Mr.C.K.Patil, the HDO, MR.Pande nor the Range Officer, Mr.Lalit Kumar Pande have visited the scene and tried to make peace with the guides. If not anything else, this brings out the sheer apathy of the Forest officials towards the guides who dedicate their time and efforts selflessly to the greater good of the Tiger.

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