With funding assured from The World Bank, the Kerala Forest Department recruited 20 such poachers who wanted to return to life within the bounds of law. This first contingent was convened into an "Eco-Development Committee," to administer the protection activities assigned to this group.
Most members of this group had been on the run from the law for a long time, and some had even served jail terms extending up to three years for having committed various forest-related offences. But, as a concession, the forest department decided not to press charges on pending criminal cases against them.
Jayan is a man who was on the run from the long reach of the law for the better part of his life, but thanks to the new program has now changed his stripes. "Life is much better after donning the uniform since now we get a lot of respect from the community as well," he says.
Some of the spectacular successes of this forest protection group include the seizure of seven ivory tusks from the Periyar forests in August 1998, and last year they caught red-handed a notorious poacher with over 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of Gaur meat.
While many people in the developing world criticize the involvement in local communities of a multilateral lending institution like The World Bank, Michael F. Carter, an economist and country director, India of the bank defends the institution's role. "The involvement of the bank has a psychological effect since people feel there is more rigorous oversight," he says.
Uniyal, field director at the Periyar Tiger Reserve, describes the project as a "very successful experiment in social engineering." The forest department, he says, has been able to create a "virtual social fence" of local conservationists besides reducing the alienation that had come about between the locals and forest department.
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