From Our Correspondent, TNT News | Guwahati, Feb 10, 2018:
Forest guards, entrusted with the responsibility to protect rhinos from poachers in Assam will soon get a weapon which the army is yet to be provided with–ghatak rifles.
The state forest department has recently procured a consignment of moder weapons including 91 ghatak rifles in order to replace the old .303 and .315 rifles to strongly tackle the poachers.
Officials in the department told TNT-The Northeast Today that 272 Insas rifles, 954 SLR, 20 9mm pistols and 133 12bore pump action guns have also been procured to boost the forest guards’ capacity to deal with the poachers.
“Since poachers are using sophisticated weapons, our forest guards are unable to deal with them properly. As a result number of poaching of rhinos is increasing. In order to deal with the situation, we decided to procure the sophisticated weapons which are equally lethal but are cost effective. Ghatak rifles are as lethal as the Insas rifle but they are less costly. So we have bought the weapons and will soon be handed over to our forest personnel” said the official.
A ghatak rifle was indigenously developed by the Defence Research and Development Agency under the ministry of defence in order to reduce the country’s import expenditure on defence. The ghataks are as lethal as the SLR or Insas but are less costly. Army is yet to be provided with the ghatak rifles but is being used by some paramilitary forces in the country at present. Army will be provided with the ghatak after the process of further development and experiment is over.
At least 52 rhinos have been killed by poachers in Assam since 2015. Kaziranga National Park, which houses largest number of one horned rhinos in the world alone saw poaching of 24 rhinos between January 2016 and 2018 followed by two in Manas National Park and four in Organg National Park.
Assam forest Minister Pramila Rani Brahma told the state Assembly recently that police investigation revealed the involvement of militants in rhino poaching. At least 316 poachers have been arrested so far since 2015.
She said efforts are on to equip the forest guards with sophisticated weapons and better training to deal with the strong network of poachers.
Rhinos are killed for their horns and are smuggled to South East Asian countries like Vietnam and China. Rhino horns has a huge market in those countries which are used to prepare traditional medicines. There is belief that rhino horns constitute aphrodisiac element although such belief has been rejected by wildlife experts and chemical scientists.
The forest Minister said a special task force headed by a senior police officer has been set up to deal with the poaching and the process of recruitment for the first rhino protection force is also underway.