Kaziranga national park is an iconic place. Home to the Indian Rhino, this reserve holds a special place in the country’s vivid wildlife and culture.
Kaziranga is so popular that BBC decided to make a film on Kaziranga’s forest guards and poaching. The documentary titled ‘Killing For Conservation’ exposes the ‘dark secrets’ of Kaziranga and explores if the war on Rhino poaching has gone too far.
The documentary claims that forest guards have been given the powers to shoot and kill the poachers. The story of two boys namely Akash Orang and Goanbaruhal Kealing have been shown in the movie. The two boys, in separate cases, were mistakenly taken for poachers and shot by the forest guards. It further goes on to say that Rowlatt’s movie shows that more people were killed by the guards as compared to the number of rhinos killed by the poachers.
In 2016, 23 people were killed by the forest guards as compared to 17 Rhinos hunted by the poachers. The introductory article to the film also claims that only two intruders were prosecuted and fifty men were shot dead since 2014.
The Kaziranga Tiger Reserve director Satyendra Singh has refuted the claims and said that these facts were fabricated to over-dramatize the conservation efforts which are being opposed by the local elements and foreign-funded NGOs. He said:
There is no shoot-on-sight policy, only legal immunity for poor forest guards who do a very difficult job. They (BBC) have misrepresented facts and selectively over-dramatised interviews and old footage. For example, I spoke for half an hour and they selectively used about a minute. They had a different agenda fuelled by certain foreign NGOs and local elements opposed to conservation. We are exploring all options including legal steps.
In the legal notice issued to BBC by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, it said that Rowlatt faulted in seeking the right to air the movie without submitted the movie to the Ministry of Environment and External Affairs for the compulsory review to remove any deviations and showcase the truth.
The notice also asks BBC to show cause within a week as to why the filming permission should not be revoked. The Indian High Commission in UK has also taken up the matter with BBC.
The notice also claims that the submitted storyline was vastly different. It said:
Story on challenges and expertise of India’s conservation drive. We would like to report on and feature what we consider the most exciting aspect of conservation in India — the elite rangers of Kaziranga as they go on night patrol and show our viewers the efforts being taken to protect wildlife in India.
Rowlatt was unable to comment. However, an e-mail response from BBC read:
This film makes clear the successes achieved by India’s conservation policies in preserving the country’s most iconic wildlife. However, the film also expressly set out to explore the challenges of India’s conservation drive and during production it became clear that one of those challenges was the impact on communities living next to the park. Our audiences expect us to bring them the full picture, while adhering to our editorial standards and this piece is no different. The issues raised in the film are part of an important international debate on the appropriate way to combat poaching. We did approach the relevant government authorities to make sure their position was fully reflected but they declined to take part. Killing For Conservation counters the Kaziranga authority’s justification for high casualties that forest guards engaged with heavily armed poachers. “Just one park guard has been killed by poachers in the past 20 years compared with 106 people shot dead by guards over the same period.
The ever-rising threat of extinction of few remaining Indian Rhinos has led the authorities to take several actions. However, no such policy of shoot and kill poachers has been implemented. The forest guards have simply been provided with certain immunity. This immunity is however not absolute and does not permit the guard to kill people and roam without the fear of the law.
More often than not, poachers lure the poor villagers or disguise themselves as the local men and venture into the reserve to recce the area for potential targets. The lack of proper fencing around the reserve, annual flooding and presence of villages and a national highway in the wildlife park has added to the agony of the Rhinos.
It is time that the government takes into account such issues and the youth of the country rise up to the occasion to preserve our precious wildlife.