A total of 239 rhinos were killed by poachers in the last 16 years in Assam, Forest Minister Pramila Rani Brahma said today.
Replying to a query of Congress MLA Ajanta Neog during Question Hour in the Assembly, Brahma said the 239 rhinos were killed by poachers from 2001 to July 2016.
“The morale of forest staff is very low. There is no proper basic amenities. Transit camps are in dilapidated conditions and there are no facilities of drinking water. They do not even get their ration every month - it is given only once or twice in a year,” she said.
The minister said the department had employed casual staff, but unfortunately their pays are not regular. “It is said that money is sanctioned for uniforms, but they do not get it... How will they survive? I discussed the issue with the chief minister as we are serious about stopping poaching,” Brahma said.
She said the equipment, including arms such as .303 rifles, are of very old technology and most times there is scarcity of bullets.
“We need to modernise the equipment. We need to provide good transit camps, uniforms, shoes and all other facilities. My first priority is to prevent poaching, but I cannot claim that I will be able to fully eliminate poaching,” Brahma said, adding that there is a big international racket operating for rhino horns for its medicinal value.
“In Assam, a horn is sold for Rs 1.5 lakh and above. Once it crosses international border, its value touches crore. In Myanmar, it is Rs two crore and it is Rs three crore in China. So unless we break this racket, sporadic incidents of poaching will continue,” the minister said.
She informed the house that a total of 705 poachers have been identified and 661 of them have been arrested since 2001.
Congress MLA Rakibul Hussain appealed to all parties and organisations to rise above politics on rhino poaching issue and condemn the poachers strongly instead of blaming each other.
On BJP MLA Padma Hazarika’s allegation that government officials, including police, are involved in poaching, Brahma said she does not have any proof of that yet.
She also said a video-monitored counting will be initiated soon on each treasury across the state to evaluate how many horns are stored and if those are real or made of bamboo.