Protecting the Protectors | WWF India

Jitender Kumar Dhyani was all of 27 years. He was one of the most energetic forest guards in the Corbett Tiger Reserve, posted in Gaujra Beat of Adnala Range within the Kalagarh Tiger Reserve Division. On the afternoon of 15th July 2013 while patrolling the forests, he drowned in the Kalagarh Reservoir. Frantic search efforts by his colleagues didn’t yield anything that day. Finally, his lifeless body was fished out of the reservoir next morning. Jitender was survived by his mother, a young wife and two daughters, aged 4 and 2 years. The authorities of Corbett Tiger Reserve tried whatever they could to support the bereaved family and finally Jitender’s wife was given a job by the Uttarakhand Government.

It was 17th October 2013 when Rakesh Kumar and Dev Singh, two daily wage workers with the Corbett Tiger Reserve were on a routine patrol inside Kalagarh Tiger Reserve Division. Dev Singh was walking ahead of Rakesh Kumar, when,  hearing a noise, he turned back to find that a tiger had attacked Rakesh. Dev Singh had nothing but a stick, with which he started hitting the tiger. In a while the tiger left Rakesh and disappeared into the long grass. Rakesh was bleeding profusely from the head. Dev Singh lit a fire to ward off the tiger, tied a piece of his uniform on Rakesh's wound and then carried Rakesh on his back for some distance till the road ended at the top of a steep slope. By the time his cries for help reached the nearest forest camp, it was evening. A rescue team was sent out for the two daily wage workers.  The team carried Rakesh Kumar all the way back to the nearest road, which was seven kilometers away and at midnight he was given first aid in the forest itself. Later in the night he was driven to Haldwani and admitted in the government hospital. Somehow, Rakesh gathered courage and telephoned one of the members on the Board of Trustees of WWF-India whom he knew -  his parting words were ‘Saab, mujhe bacha lo’. Nothing much could be done, as Rakesh Kumar had already lost a lot of blood from the mauling and he succumbed to his injuries on 20th October 2013. His family was provided some support by the Forest Department, but since he was a daily wage worker, the government could not commit any permanent job security to his family members. The situation is not much different in other Tiger Reserves of the country. On 6th November 2013, Ting Sinhar, a young forest guard was killed by a rhino in the Kaziranga National Park, Assam. He was on a routine foot patrol with other guards in the Burapahar Forest Range, when suddenly a rhino dashed out of the bushes and fatally injured him. His colleagues didn't get a chance to ward off the rhino by firing in the air.

The plight of the frontline staff of forest departments across various states and union territories is often untold and unheard. WWF-India estimated that each year approximately ten such frontline staff die and another ten get disabled for life while protecting the forests of India and their denizens. Often their bereaved families have to undergo severe financial crisis.

With this background, WWF-India partnered with ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Company and from November 2016, started an ex-gratia program for frontline staff of forest departments across 15 states of India. Any frontline staff getting maimed while in the line of duty in the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Jammu and Kashmir will be covered under this program. An ex-gratia of Rs.300,000/- will be provided to the victim's family, and a total of 20 cases will be covered per year. This is an initiative to stand by the families of many such young souls like Rakesh Kumar, Jitender Kumar Dhyani and Ting Sinhar. The partnership between WWF India and ICICI Prudential was announced at a press meet in Mumbai on 18th January 2017.

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