I am a Field Director, an employee of the government of India, presently serving the state government. As FD my task is to ensure that the wildlands under my charge remain intact, the tigers and its prey are safe and thriving and the habitats that support the wild animals are productive and healthy. Looks quite easy here – isn’t it? I too thought so initially when I got my posting order to this reserve.
But now I am doing things that hardly give me time to concentrate on my primary tasks, at all – at present, I work as a tourism managers and a PRO- yes PRO who is highly in demand, my phone rings 24x7 and most of the calls are from VIPs, their sons and daughters, mausi ka ladka, samdhi –samdhan, party workers, khas dost and each of these categories demands my personal attention. If I am at one entrance of the park seeing off an hob’le minister, I get a call from the other gate 30 kms away that another VIP needs me there at once- I jump into the Scorpio and scoot.
Whenever the guests of a VIP arrives the rest house kitchen transform into a langar as there are usually more than a dozen mouths to feed. And when my FRH in charge presents a bill, he, in turn, is presented a mobile phone with the “VIP” on the other end of the line threatening him of dire consequences for displaying disrespect to his relatives by presenting a bill to them.
Once, in my park, a young administrative service officer wanted to watch a tiger from close quarters – he insisted that he should be brought down from his perch high up on the elephant back and put down on the ground so that he could walk up to the resting tiger and watch him up close. The staff didn’t buzz. The man created a ruckus after coming back and demanded my presence. When I reached there and explained to him the risk in following such a life threatening demand, he became furious and threatened me to wait and see as one day, he would become the forest secretary and then he would teach me a lesson.
On the other hands tourists are much easy to manage. But the cost of managing tourist is high, as I have a small bunch of staff and their primary responsibility is to protect and manage wildlife and their habitats. These guys are totally at their wits end when it comes to managing tourism; but do they have an option? The park is open for 9 months to tourists and for nine months I manage the park with half the strength as the other half is busy distributing permits, supervising toilets, monitoring errant guides and drivers, picking garbage from the tourism zone etc. The worst part comes from the influential lodge operators they want me to ask my staff to stop the patrolling and maintenance works that they believe disturbs tigers in the tourism zone and inconveniences the visitors, some want the entire park as tourism zone at their disposal, some protest why the park remains closed ½ day every week- when I explain them that the staff as well as the wild animals are living creatures and they need some peaceful time too- they scoff at the idea. The poor forest guard, who lives in the jungle camp, is compelled to keep a separate accommodation for the family in a big village or small town 50-60 kms away as he doesn’t want his/her children to remain uneducated, obviously he needs a day off in a week to take care of his family but only those who empathize with and feel helpless is me and my counterparts in other parks. Sometime, at the entrance to the park I handle angry bunch of visitors who couldn’t book a permit online and came to the gate to buy one as all the tickets were booked in advance by a few hotel operators in bulk and the 10 % allotted to the gates were utilized for accommodating the guests of the local VIPs (the high profile Govt.servants).
Often, my staff feels helpless watching a number of vehicles parked on the road stopping the movement of cubs to the grassland where their mother waits for them. The helplessness emanates from the experience that fines imposed on errant drivers do not deter them and they do it again and again. I too, feel helpless, as the moment I order a harsher punishment, my phone starts ringing again and I don’t want to be reprimanded for no fault of mine. Gradually, I have become a rhinoceros – I just graze with my head down and don’t bother to see what happens around me. Management obviously has taken a back-seat but am I worried – not at all, as I believe that even passengers sitting on the back seat would, at the end, reach their destinations albeit with some aching bones and an upset stomach.