Himanta Biswa Sarma. Photo: PTI.
Guwahati: A one-horned rhinoceros at the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) had a brush with the proverbial apathy of VIP culture. The animal had tried to escape to higher ground when it was forced back to make way for two politicians and their security entourage, a local satellite news channel reported.
Some 80-90% of KNP has been submerged by the ongoing floods in Assam. More than 120 animals, including 11 rhinoceroses, have died thus far – by drowning, starvation and after being hit by speeding vehicles on NH 37, which cuts through the park.
KNP is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is facing the brunt of the ongoing monsoons this year as it has almost every year, forcing its residents to scamper for dry ground, warmth and any food.
On July 20, Himanta Biswa Sarma, a cabinet minister in the Government of Assam and an MLA from Jalukbari, visited the area along with Atul Bora, the MLA from Bokakhat.
Footage aired on the local TV news, about 10 minutes long, showed the politicians’ entourage making loud noises and even firing blank rounds into the air to scare the rhinoceros back into the floodwaters it had been attempting to escape.
When the water level rises inside KNP, the animals – especially the big mammals – take a tourists’ trail that is available at an elevated level.
Both Sarma and Bora were visiting the Kohora range of KNP to survey the flood situation and assess damages.
When The Wire reached out to P. Sivakumar, the director of KNP, he immediately denied Sarma’s security entourage had forced the animal to retreat or had made any attempts to do so.
“This is false news and has been spun to create sensationalism. It was not the minister’s vehicle but mine. The minister was visiting KNP to monitor the flood situation. He also met with forest guards and the staff of KNP, and offered his assurance to help them. He also spoke about providing rations and other essential provisions to help the forest guards,” Sivakumar said.
Jeepal Krishak Sramik Samiti, a Golaghat-based farmers’ rights group, told The Wire, rubbished Sivakumar’s statement as a lie, however. “On July 21, we will be issuing a press statement on the issue. It is clear in the footage that the poor animal was forced to return to the floodwaters. This is quite sad and exposes VIP apathy not only towards people but towards animals as well.”