By Saraswat Kashyap: The government of Assam on Tuesday denied allegations levelled against them of large-scale anomalies in the census of rhinos carried out in the year 2022 at the famed Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve (KNPTR) as had been alleged by an RTI and wildlife activist, Rohit Choudhury.
In response to the status report sought by the Union Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change following allegations by the RTI activist, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest and Head of Forest Force (PCCF & HOFF) MK Yadava termed the allegations as false.
ALSO READ | PM Modi to inaugurate AIIMS Guwahati, launch projects worth Rs 14,300 crore in Assam
Terming the claims as malafide, MK Yadava sought suitable action against Choudhury in the reply sent to the Additional Director General of Forests (Wildlife) (Under Union Environment, Forest and Climate Change Ministry), for maligning the reputation of the World Heritage Site.
In the reply, MK Yadava stated that the allegations of Rohit Choudhury are totally false.
Yadava also added that the release of the rhino population estimation, 2022 report by Choudhury to the media has caused tremendous loss to the park’s security and has also brought disrepute to the enumerators of the census and the state forest department.
The Wildlife Division of the Union Environment, Forest and Climate Change Ministry and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), which falls under the same ministry, had asked the Assam chief wildlife warden (CWW) to submit a status report on the Rhino census at the earliest and urgently over allegations of anomalies leveled by Rohit Choudhury.
In the Rhino census carried out in the park in March 2022, which was the 14th census to have been carried out in the National Park, the authorities stated that the total number of endangered animals had increased from 2,413 in 2018 to 2,613, an increase of around 200 animals.
Rohit Choudhury, while questioning the census process and the official numbers, filed RTI applications and analysis of replies received by him from the state forest department showed a difference in the number of Rhinos listed by enumerators of the census and a subsequent tally made public later.
On the other hand, the data sheets which were submitted by enumerators after the surveys were carried out during March 26 and 27, 2022 showed the total number of Rhinos in the park as 2,042.
However, a sample survey was again carried out in 22 randomly selected divisions of the park on March 28 and it was mentioned that a total of 1,064 Rhinos were counted, which was much more than the 472 rhinos that were counted by enumerators in the same 22 divisions during 26 and 27.
Choudhury, after discovering that the figures were statistically unmatched, wrote to the Union Environment and Forest Ministry in January 2023 seeking an inquiry into the suspected anomalies.
MK Yadava in the reply sent on Tuesday stated that the actual counting of Rhinos did not take place during March 26 and 27, 2022, as have been claimed by Choudhury in his allegation, and there was a counting of Rhinos sighted.
Yadava, however, claimed that in the press release issued by the Kaziranga authorities on March 29, 2022, following the census, the Director of the park Jatindra Sarma had clearly stated that actual counting of Rhinos was done on March 26 and 27 and a sample survey was carried out in as many as 26 randomly selected divisions of the park on March 27.
Choudhury has now stated that, according to Yadava, the counting of Rhinos sighted and, in total, 33 divisions were revisited and recounted. The RTI activist reiterates that it should now be decided among the Kaziranga Director Sarma and PCCF & HOFF Yadava) as to who is telling the truth.
Meanwhile, MK Yadava has also refuted Rohit Choudhury’s allegations that no observers were present during the sample survey on March 28 as stated in his reply that there was an independent enumerator and one media observer on that day.
By showing a increase of rhinos in the sample survey in the blocks where it was undertaken from 472 during March 26 and 27 to 1,064 on March 28, the PCCF stated that if the recounted division has less than twice the either count, then the average of the two counts is taken as final tally and if the difference is more than twice of one over the other, the lower count is rejected as undercount and the higher count is retained as final tally.
ALSO READ | ‘The more the Opposition badmouths BJP, PM Modiâæ’: Amit Shah in Assam
An internal inquiry report into the alleged anomalies in the census submitted in February 2023, however, stated that the national park’s officials were not able to explain the logic behind using such a method of arriving at a final count.
Yadava stated in his reply that the rhino data of Kaziranga National Park is very sensitive as the park is prone to widespread poaching involving national and international poachers.
This is the first time in the history of the park that division wise data has been made public and Rohit Choudhury has taken the liberty, despite restraint by the park Director, to publish the same in the media.
Yadava claimed that Rohit Choudhury posed a serious threat to the park’s security.