Not paid for 6 months, staff at Arunachal tiger reserve begin indefinite strike

Over 200 part-time workers of the Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh launched an indefinite strike on Wednesday for non-payment of their wages for the past more than six months.

With the agitation of the 202 contingency workers at the office of the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), the Pakke Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Pakke-Kessang district has been left unguarded.

Accompanied by eight elephants, the workers, some of them in their uniform, threatened to continue their agitation until their wages, which have been pending since December last year, are paid by the authorities.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority, headed by Union Environment, Forest & Climate Change Minister Prakash Javadekar, provides funding for the wages of the contingency staff of PTR through the state government.

PTR workers’ union General Secretary Nikum Nabam said that the strike was to begin from May 2, but it was suspended after the state Environment and Forest Minister Mama Natung assured them that their wages would be released soon.

“We have families to take care of with a meagre wage of Rs 11,000 per month. Since December, we are in great distress, and the government must take suitable steps to release our wages,” he said.

Besides the payment of wages, the agitating workers also demanded regularisation of the Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF).

Nabam said that they have learnt that the government had released the funds for their wages but the money has been lying in the treasury instead of being transferred to the DFO of the PTR.

“Forest officials are trying hard to transfer the fund from the treasury to the forest department. The finance department failed to release the due salaries in time. Their demands are genuine,” a senior forest official told IANS on condition of anonymity

Environment and Forest Minister Natung said that due to the Covid situation and non-availability of officials, disbursement of wages has been delayed, but the workers should have waited for two-three days before launching the agitation.

The 862 sq km Pakke Wildlife Sanctuary and Pakke Tiger Reserve falls in the Pakke-Kessang district in southern Arunachal Pradesh. It has rich flora and fauna besides a diverse species of wild animals.