Flouting Centre’s rule, Karnataka transfers tiger reserve officials before tenure end

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In violation of the Union environment ministry’s direction mandating a minimum tenure of three years for forest officers posted in tiger reserves, the Karnataka government has transferred some senior forest officials before their term ended.

In December 2021, a range forest officer (RFO) from Kali Tiger Reserve was transferred to the Hukkeri range in Belagavi district. Since 2012, Kali Tiger Reserve has seen seven directors, with the current completing two years of his tenure. A few months ago, the Bhadra Tiger Reserve field director was transferred before the completion of his tenure. In the Bandipur tiger reserve, the state government had in 2020 posted SR Natesh as the field director, when only 1.2 years of his inter-cadre deputation tenure were left. In December 2021, he too handed over charge.

Wildlife conservationists point out that the government could have deputed a forest officer with sufficient years of service left, so that conservation measures would not be impeded. Frequent transfers of field directors hamper conservation efforts in tiger reserves, activists and officials say.

A senior forest official from the Karnataka Forest Department told The Indian Express on condition of anonymity, “These transfers do impede tiger conservation mechanisms. A field director holds a lot of importance in tiger reserves. We have been discussing these issues with successive governments over the years but the situation is the same.”

When asked for a comment, Karnataka forest minister Umesh Katti told The Indian Express, “I will look into the issue.”

Karnataka is not alone in transferring field directors before their term ends. Last year, neighbouring Maharashtra transferred the field director and conservator of Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), Jitendra Ramgaonkar. The order was later revoked in face of protests.

In August 2021, Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) Bhupender Yadav wrote to the chief ministers of all states, saying, “It is prudent to ensure participation of officials and forest frontline force units across tiger bearing areas in the state. Transfer and posting in tiger reserves/ protected areas during the period may also be avoided at all levels.”

In September 2013, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) wrote to the Additional Chief Secretaries of all states that a minimum tenure of three years should be ensured for the forest officers posted in tiger reserves. In 2009, the Union cabinet had approved a proposal for implementing tripartite agreement among the environment ministry, state governments and tiger reserves to strengthen tiger conservation efforts.

“The authority has decided to advise the States under section 38O (2) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 for sending a panel of names of suitable officers to Project Tiger / NTCA for obtaining recommendation vis-a-vis the professional competency of the officers included in the said panel. Further it was decided that a minimum tenure of three years should be ensured for such officers while posting as Field Directors of Tiger Reserves (except in cases involving disciplinary action etc),” the order dated September 5, 2013 by NTCA to all the states read.

The directions were reiterated by the NTCA to the states in 2015 and 2019.

“Though the directions were issued by NTCA under Section 38 (O) (2) of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, which is an obligation on the state governments, these directions are being flouted. Such frequent transfers of field directors reduces the overall effectiveness of management of the tiger reserve, and has a negative impact on tiger conservation. It is high time states follow the directions of the NTCA in posting field directors to tiger reserves, and enabling them to complete their minimum tenure in the overall interest of wildlife,” said Giridhar Kulkarni, wildlife conservationist.





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