New Delhi, Mar 21 (PTI) The Assam government has taken a series of steps to curb poaching at the Kaziranga National Park, including empowering the forest staff to use firearms without prior sanction while providing them immunity from prosecution, the Centre today said.

The park was recently at the centre of a controversy over a BBC documentary which claimed that it employed a “shoot-to- kill” strategy in dealing with poachers.

Following this, the Environment Ministry had suggested “blacklisting” of a BBC producer for “grossly erroneous” reporting on the government’s anti-poaching strategy in Kaziranga.

In a written reply to the Lok Sabha today, Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave said 10 poachers have been arrested this year at the Kaziranga National Park and the number of anti-poaching camps have been increased to ensure effective surveillance.

He said Assam has also taken a number of steps to strengthen rhino protection including deployment of 423 forest protection force personnel equipped with arms, 175 armed home guards, enhancing punishment of offenders through an amendment to Wildlife Protection Act 1972 (Assam Amendment 2009), and empowering the forest staff to use firearms while providing immunity from prosecution without prior sanction among others.

Dave said that one rhino fell victim to poaching this year while in 2016, 18 cases of poaching were reported from the national park. The number of rhinos as per latest census in the country is 2909.

“A special task force headed by Additional Director General of Police has been constituted to curb rhino poaching.

Number of anti-poaching camps has been increased in Kaziranga National Park to ensure effective surveillance,” he said.

He said while ten poachers have been arrested so far this year, 59 such offenders had been arrested in 2016 at the park.

“The arrested offenders have been produced in the court of law for prosecution. The Assam government has constituted fast track court for speedy disposal of wildlife cases including rhinoceros,” he said.

“For developing cooperation among fringe villagers around the park and assistance in curbing rhino poaching, 38 Eco-Development Committees have been registered through which development work of villages are being taken up.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.