GUWAHATI: Locals of Kaziranga National Park (KNP) have come out in support of the controversial BBC documentary on the national park’s conservation methods, demanding an enquiry into the reported deaths of tribals.'Shoot/at/Sight'/Orders/Kill/106/Tribals/in/Kaziranga

A local farmers’ body has demanded an independent inquiry on all the reported killings in the last three months and adequate compensation for the victims.

The documentary made by BBC reporter Justin Rowlatt was telecast in February, and reports that forest guards in Kaziranga have been given powers to shoot and kill anyone they deem to be poachers, and hence a threat to the rhinos.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) that governs all tiger reserves in the country has imposed a ban on the network and its journalist Justin Rowlatt for five years.

“This is very unfortunate to put a ban on media which is trying to highlight the truth. We condemn this act of the NTCA and the Indian government and we demand that the ban on BBC should be lifted,” said Soneswar Narah, advisor of Jeepal Krishak Sramik Sangha (JKSS), a farmers’ body.

Narah also alleged that the forest department has been violating human rights in the name of conservation. “We feel proud of Kaziranga National Park and at the same time we want to appeal to the world that let the human beings live along with the animals. There have been many instances of the forest officials harassing the neighbouring villagers. We demand an independent inquiry on all these 57 cases in the last three years when the forest officials have (allegedly) killed youths targeting them as poachers,” he added.

The farmers body has further demanded adequate compensation for Akash Orang, Mono Bora and late Dipen Saonra among others who have sustained injuries or were killed, reportedly at the instance of forest officials.

The farmers’ have also demanded compensation and employment for all the casual employees and their families who have lost their lives or been injured by wild animals while on duty.

According to the latest census, conducted by Assam’s forest department along with some other organizations in 2015, the Park has 2,401 rhinos.

Babul Gogoi, an activist and journalist said that it’s unfortunate that a lot of villagers have been tortured in the name of controlling poaching. “I have been to all the villages nearby the KNP. Poaching should be controlled and the poachers should be punished but the innocent people should not be harassed. Rather the neighbouring villagers should be taken into confidence to help in minimizing the illegal activities. And when we talk about the documentary done by Justin Rowlatt, the BBC has nowhere mentioned anything controversial or given wrong information. The forest guards and the park director himself have questioned the conservation methods giving the details,” Gogoi told The Citizen.

He said the authorities are taking the approach of ‘shooting the messenger’ instead of examining the issues raised.

Dhruba Jyoti Saha, a local journalist who has covered such harassment meted out to the locals, said that the documentary has not shown anything wrong.

“I was shocked to see the reactions. These are uncalled for. Because what the BBC documentary has is nothing wrong. Everyone here knows the fact. Even I have reported such incidents on several occasions for quite some time. Though the locals have been demanding a probe and justice, so far nothing has happened,” Saha said.

He also alleged that there has not been any initiative on the part of the government to involve the locals in ‘community participation for conservation’.

Having said that, poaching of one horned rhinos has become a major hurdle for the national park over the last decade. The rhino, is categorised as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in its 2008 red list.

An Indian Express report says that in Kaziranga, forest guards shot dead 45 poachers over 2014 and 2015, and at least 44 rhinos were poached in the park during the same period. On average then, the annual loss on each side was of roughly 22 lives. In 2016, not more than 5 poachers were killed, while at least 17 rhinos were poached.

A forest official said that they needed to adopt strict measures to eliminate these llegal activities. “And this is not an easy task butwe have succeeded to a great extent,” said the official who did not wished to be named.

(Cover Photograph: Alleged poachers killed at Kaziranga national park om Assam on August 27,2015)