Idukki: Even as human-animal conflict continues to torment the residents of the high ranges in Kerala, the Munnar Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) has issued a controversial order to lay off all daily-wage watchers posted in four ranges of the division.
The order issued by DFO Ramesh Bishnoi to the range officers of Munnar, Adimali, Neriymangalam and Devikulam says every daily-wage worker except those part of rapid response team (RRT) Devikulam, Internal RRT Chinnakanal and Neriyamangalam and the employees and temporary drivers posted in Devikulam Central Nursery Inspection Bungalow, will no longer be employed by the Forest Department from April 1. DFO Bishnoi is on leave and is expected to report back after 10 days.
The order has come as a shocker for those residing in the Munnar Division where human-animal conflict is prevalent. Those residing in settlements bordering the forest have been demanding more watchers and RRT members to track wild animals such as tusker 'Padayappa' that have been causing damages to wayside shops and obstructing traffic in Munnar-Mattupetti regions.
The daily-wage workers set to lose their jobs are currently part of our projects namely the Fire Protection Management System (FP), Industrial Raw Material (IRM), Kerala Forest Development Fund (KFDF) and MRMAC, a project to mitigate human-animal conflict.
The order categorically says that all the temporary posts meant for these projects would become redundant after 31.03.2024 and no estimate for these projects would be approved by the DFO's office thereafter.
Meanwhile, the Forest Department has played down the issuance of the order as a routine affair even as the residents and people's representatives of the wild-elephant-infested regions of Chinnakanal, Santhanpara and Munnar have raised concerns. The Department said that the order was issued in advance so that there would not be an issue of shortage of funds to pay the temporary employees.
“There are more than 70 daily-wage watchers in the division and we expect hardly 10 of them to be affected by the order,” said an officer with the Munnar Division. “The department has put up a proposal to NABARD for an eco-restoration project in which the exotic trees such as eucalyptus, pine and wattle would be cleared and natural species would be planted. If we get funds for implementing more projects we may be able to recruit even more than 70 daily-wage staffers,” he said.