India's forest guards risk life and limb, literally, to keep wildlife safe. Beyond the inherent dangers of working in forests, they have to face off against wildlife criminals who are far better armed and equipped. They struggle with the prospect of permanent injury or death, especially since many are the sole breadwinners in their families. To boost their morale, Wildlife Trust of India provides a unique ex-gratia scheme that currently covers 18000 guards against disability and death on duty.
They may be warriors on the frontlines of conservation, but India's forest guards are hopelessly under-equipped. The illegal wildlife trade nexus provides poachers with sophisticated weaponry, something that our forest staff lack. Death or injury, whether in such encounters or accidents with wild animals, is a reality. What makes it worse for them and their families is that in such instances, compensation is often inadequate and takes a long time to process.
WTI is the only NGO in India that provides supplemental life/injury cover to forest guards at present. Close to 20,000 frontline forest staff are covered by this unique ex-gratia scheme, which ensures them and their families quick relief of up to $1500 in case of permanent disability or death on duty. Till date 149 claims have been settled by WTI. The objective is to cover more guards across Protected Areas under this scheme while increasing the insurance cover to $3000.
WTI has also provided training on anti-poaching and wildlife enforcement to about 20,000 guards from 125 Protected Areas, especially to protect tigers and elephants. These guards have also been equipped with field gear to conduct their foot patrol activities more efficiently. Combined with the security that WTI's ex-gratia scheme promises, this project will create, in the long run, an aware, motivated and effective frontline force to safeguard India's natural heritage against wildlife criminals.