Itanagar: Over 200 contingency workers of Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh went on a strike from Wednesday over non-payment of wages since December 2020, leaving the tiger reserve unguarded.

All the 202 contingency workers, along with their eight elephants converged at the administrative office of the tiger reserve, spread over 862 km, to demand their wages for the last six months.

“Our strike was scheduled from May 2 but was withdrawn after state Environment and Forest Minister Mama Natung promised that the wages would be released. We can manage somehow, but all of us have families to maintain with the meager wages we get,” Pakke Tiger Reserve Workers Union general secretary Nikum Nabam told newsmen.

The tiger reserve is located in Pakke-Kessang district, about 78 km from the state capital.

Other than payment of the wages of the staff under Project Tiger, the union has demanded regularisation of the Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF), an increase of wage last revised in 2018 to Rs 11,000 per month, and monthly payout instead of periodic disbursement.

Also read: The state bird of Assam is crying for attention

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) provides the wages of the contingency staff of the tiger reserve periodically through the state government.

The contingency workers were given their wages from April-November 2020 after the NTCA had sanctioned Rs 6.05 crore for the 2020-2021 financial year and released a part of it.

“The second installment of Rs 1.32 crore was released in January but the money is lying in the state exchequer instead of being transferred to the Divisional Forest Officer of our tiger reserve for disbursement of wages,” Nabam said, adding that the workers have been borrowing or surviving on meagre donations.

However, the environment and forest Minister said the workers should have waited two-three days for their wages.

“There were no officers to handle their wages due to the Covid-19-induced emergency. But the process has been started and they should get their wages in a few days,” Natung said.

“It is a pity that NTCA has focussed on tiger reserves in Assam, including Nameri Tiger Reserve, adjoining Pakke. We know protecting the tiger habitats in Arunachal Pradesh is crucial for the conservation of big cats in India, but it is difficult to focus on empty stomachs,” a member of the Pakke workers union said.

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