Wildlife & Biodiversity

Wife of Kaziranga director accused of violating wildlife rules

An alleged night safari brings out the growing tension among the locals living in the vicinity of the national park and the officials protecting the wildlife habitat

By Anupam Chakravartty
Published: Friday 28 February 2020
Sathyapriya, the Kaziranga Park Director's wife. Credit: Her Facebook Account that has now been deleted
Sathyapriya, the Kaziranga Park Director's wife. Credit: Her Facebook Account that has now been deleted Sathyapriya, the Kaziranga Park Director's wife. Credit: Her Facebook Account that has now been deleted

Locals living in the vicinity of the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve (KNPTR) have accused the park’s director, P Sivakumar, of using his position to violate provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

Sivakumar’s wife, Sathyapriya, organised a night safari inside the core zone of the park on February 22, 2020 and used high-beam flashlights on a tiger to record a video inside the park, alleged a police complaint filed at the Kohora police outpost under the Bokakhat police station on February 25.

Sathyapriya went in a jeep on the night safari in the Agoratoli range of KNPTR with forest officials in search of tigers, with powerful search lights in tow.

“She has also posted a video on her social media where they were flashing high power search lights at a Bengal tiger and making a video of it. The animal is visible in the video that was uploaded at 5 pm,” the complaint stated. “Besides, there are ample other evidences of Ms Sivakumar posing for photographs with endangered species falling under Schedule I of Wild Life (Protection) Act,” it added. 

Sathyapriya deleted her Facebook account after the video and photos went viral.

The complaint was filed by members of Bokakhat-based farmers’ rights organisation, Jeepal Krishak Sramik Sangha (JKSS), whose members include Soneshwar Narah, Pranab Doley, Probin Pegu and Satyajit Doley.

P Sivakumar told Down To Earth that the allegations leveled against his wife were completely false. “There was no night safari. There is no violation of any law under wildlife protection. Actually there are some people who are against development in Kaziranga. There is an issue of encroachment and we have carried out evictions,” he said.

“On the other hand, some locals have been violating jeep safari rules. National Tiger Conservation Authority has put a cap on the jeeps that can go inside the park,” he added, stating that the complaint looked like a case of vendetta against him.

After the video and pictures went viral on the social media, several local organisations including Asom Jatiyabadi Yuba Chhatra Parishad (AJYCP), a students’ organisation and Kaziranga Jeep Safari Sanstha, the local union for drivers who conduct jeep safaris inside the park.

Screen grab of Sathyapriya's social media account status

Screen grab of Sathyapriya's social media account status

According to Tulsi Bordoloi, president of the Sanstha, local guides and jeep safari organisers are heavily fined if they sometimes get late inside the park. “How did they allow the director’s wife to enter the premises? The law should be equal for all civilians. We are demanding an independent and a fair probe by the local authorities,” Bordoloi said.

Such violations from the people entrusted to protect the endangered species had lowered the benchmark on the wildlife conservation strategies adopted in Assam, Ananta Gogoi of AJYCP, said. He demanded strict action against the officials involved.

The incident showed that there existed different standards for the families and friends of KNPTR officials, according to JKSS, which is at the forefront of a local movement demanding the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, for the villages in Kaziranga’s vicinity.

“At a time when the forest department of Kaziranga has been given immense immunity to stop local people from entering the forest to collect their essential forest produce, there also have been multiple incidences of harassment of locals and Scheduled Tribe inhabitants by the forest officials such as forceful evictions, curtailing of complete customary rights of tribal people etc,” Soneshwar Narah, the main complainant in the case, stated.

“People residing as guardians of the forest for centuries are not even granted constitutional rights under the Forest Rights Act, 2006,” he added.  

He said that there had been many extra-judicial killings in the villages near the park that had been buried without any investigation, in complete violation of the law. Narah and others cited the example of seven-year-old Akash Oraon belonging to the local tea tribe, who was ‘mistakenly’ shot in his leg by forest guards on his leg in 2015 when he was playing near the forest boundary.

A copy of the complaint filed against Sathyapriya Sivakumar A copy of the complaint filed against Sathyapriya Sivakumar

However, police officials have taken cognizance of the video that was uploaded from Ms. Sivakumar’s social media account. “The complainants have provided us with a 12-second video clip of a tiger on which high beam lights were pointed at. While forest officials can enter the park at night, we are doing an inquiry into whether the director’s wife entered the premises or not,” Debojit Dutta, officer-in-charge at the Bokakhat police station, said.

Police officials believe there is a growing mistrust among the jeep safari organisers and park authorities, which is also a matter of inquiry.

A park official from the forest department said on the condition of anonymity that there was a lot of mistrust among local communities and KNPTR.

“Some reserved land belonging to Kaziranga was given to the government. People built houses; government built roads and gave electric connections. Now, as the park authorities have got the possession of such lands after the High Court intervention, locals have been resisting eviction despite compensation,” the official said.

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