Joining the dots
“This arrest, I strongly believe, is just an eyewash and not exactly an attack on the corrupt officials or the beginning of tackling corruption,” this is what Bishnu Saikia, a research scholar of the Communication and Journalism Department of Gauhati University had to say when asked about his comments on Mahat Talukdar-the tainted DFO who was recently arrested from Dhemaji on charges of corruption. He was arrested while he was taking a bribe. Apart from cash worth Rs 2 crore, the anti-corruption sleuths also recovered ivory and tiger skin from his Guwahati and Dhemaji residents.
“This probably was the biggest catch in the history of Assam in wildlife related crimes and the way it has been made public, I feel, it will only alert others who are involved with the nexus,” Saikia, who is also a budding wildlife photographer, further adds on.
The month of June was quite eventful for Assam in the recent times. Apart from various political ‘turns’ and ‘u-turns’, the newly formed BJP-led coalition government in the State also showed its intent on pulling down corruption in the state and add a new vigour into the work culture of the State. And accordingly the new government infused a lot of changes in the system- some small and some big; and for many the arrest of Mahat Talukdar, DFO, Dhemaji, on charges of corruption is a big achievement.
“Rhinos are being relentlessly poached and apart from talking big the previous government did nothing substantial. This arrest, within a month of government formation, is a big achievement for the government and I see a hope in it. Those involved in poaching and destruction of wildlife will finally come under the hammer,” says Kaziranga-based wildlife activist Pranab Malakar.
“This, however, is not as clean as it looks,” adds the young activist.
Mahat Chandra Talukdar’s track record as wildlife official, engaged for its protection is not very prolific as under his rule more animals have been killed then protected. He was working as the DFO (Divisional Forest Official) in Dhemaji when he was arrested on June 14 last from the district.
“Talukdar is cunning and shrewd official and indulging in corrupted ways is very easy for him. People often accuse him of extorting money from the people,” informed a Dhemaji-based journalist seeking anonymity.
“It is often heard that he has the ‘blessings’ of some MLA and MPs of the State and that it was under their directives that he carried out his ‘jungle raj’ in the jungles of Assam,” further added the journalist.
Talukdar’s name is even scripted with golden letters in the history of Assam, even though this inscription is for all the wrong reasons. Before being transferred to Dhemaji, he was also the DFO of Kaziranga National Park (KNP) and it was only under his tenure that the famed national park lost highest number (184 in total) of rhinos due to poaching.
As per records, while Talukdar was serving as a ranger in Agoratoli range (of KNP) in 1989, 42 rhinos were killed in the range vicinity. During his tenure as ranger in 1992, 29 rhinos were killed and horns taken away. While he was at Bagori range in 1992-93, a total of 89 rhinos were poached in 12 months.
“What more proof does one needs to show the crime of a person from whose resident 2 kilogram ivory and tiger skin was recovered during raids by anti-corruption officials. Either he was directly involved with the crime or he was a part of the nexus, which of course has bigger players involved,” concludes the journalist friend from Dhemaji.
According to wildlife activist Pranab Malakar, poaching is an organised crime and it needs a lot of study and holistic support- absence of either of this will spell doomsday for the poachers.
“Do you think the government don’t know about the big players involved in this unholy nexus? Mahat Talukdar is a small pawn as the real big fishes are sitting somewhere else,” he further adds on before disconnecting the phone.
Speaking under the strict condition of anonymity a former KNP employee informed that there indeed exist an unholy nexus between the poachers and some of the forest officials but there is no concrete proof to establish it, ‘but only allegations’.
“Without the knowledge of the forest officials it is almost impossible for the poachers to enter the park so easily and kill wild animals and cut off their body parts. Not all forest officials are corrupt but yes, a considerable number of the officials are involved in such organised poaching and I feel Mahat Talukdar belongs to the group,” the official adds on.
“But here I have a question as why was his name made public? Why the raids were made an elaborated media affair? What was the need to publicise the findings from his residents? Don’t you think this way others have been alerted and will get time to save their soul? Let’s see where this investigation goes on and what more is revealed,” concludes the former forest official who once was a colleague of the arrested DFO.
To be continued
Questions that have risen by different speakers above are not uncommon and as a common Assamese, similar questions have risen in my mind too. Without the involvement of top brass government officials, such large scale poaching is impossible. With Talukdar’s arrest and the revelations that he (might) have made before the anti-corruption officials ‘will’ definitely come handy in nabbing the other culprits. But, will there be any proof left, this is a big question? Even though Forest Minister Pramila Rani Brahma has said that ‘Talukdar was involved with the numerous poaching at KNP’, it however remains to be seen who else was involved with him and the findings of the investigation will be very interesting. All needs to be seen as how will the present government tackle poaching and also how will it use information shared by Talukdar and catch the big cats of this unholy practice.
(The article has been published in the June issue of North East Today)