Assam forest minister Atuwa Munda has kicked up a row for entering the Kaziranga National Park with a firearm.
Munda carried a pistol while moving inside the wildlife preserve for four hours on Friday night apparently to understand the problem of poaching. His visit followed the killing of a rhino – the eighth this year – by poachers who had sawed off the animal’s horn.
Forest officials defended the minister’s armed entry into the park. While park director MK Yadav felt there “is no violation as such”, divisional forest officer MK Seal Sarma said the forest minister could possibly enter a protected area with a firearm with due permission.
But some forest officials as well as wildlife activists asserted Munda violated the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
Wildlife activist Soumyadeep Dutta asked why Munda needed a pistol when he was accompanied by forest guards. “The Wildlife Protection Act clearly says no person, other than authorised forest guards and officials, can enter a wildlife sanctuary or a national park with a firearm,” he said.
“Even the pistol was not allotted in the minister’s name,” a senior forest officer said, seeking anonymity.
K Azad, an officer of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, said an “outsider” can enter a wildlife preserve with a firearm only if there is a particular necessity.
“But for that, he has to take due permission from the highest authorities in the department. As far as I know, the forest minister is not a forest official,” he said.
Kaziranga has an estimated 2,401 one-horned rhinos, up from 2,329 in 2013. But the park has also been troubled by poachers who have killed more than 200 rhinos since 2001.