‘Most forest guards are ill-equipped and do not have the proper equipment for self-defence’.
New Delhi: Forest employees, primarily the lower rank officers, encounter challenges and hardships when patrolling the forests. Although the government has spent crores of rupees on forest conservation and its management, many Indian Forest Service (IFS) staff have asserted that the management system is flawed and that the government doesn’t care about the welfare of the forest employees.
Most of the forest guards are not well-equipped and do not have the proper equipment for self-defence. “Simply carrying sticks or pistols do not save us from wild animals or poachers. Poachers have advanced guns and we are not allowed to use those guns or fire at them,” a forest guard, who used to work in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, and wished to stay anonymous, told The Sunday Guardian.
Last year in January, the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde, senior advocate Shyam Divan urged the government to equip forest officers above certain ranks and give them access to cars, bulletproof jackets, and weapons. However, those working on the ground do not receive any bulletproof jackets to save themselves from the poachers.
Speaking of the lack of facilities, Sudhanshu Tiwari, a forest guard from MP, said, “Staff do not have any wireless technology and we do not have any allowance for transportation. No proper equipment to rescue wildlife or arms in case we come across any poachers. Training module along with the forest committee structure should be changed.” He suggested that strong coordination must be present between the Joint Forest Committee and the forest department.
Also, the remote location of the headquarters is again a hurdle for maintaining strong and friendly communication with the villages, ultimately leading to local conflict between forest officials and villagers. The staff living at the headquarters deal with the water crisis, lack of medical facilities, electricity issues and so forth. Due to the lack of interventions from the Joint Forest Committee, the villages do not coordinate with the officials.
“In some areas, the wireless connections work and in some areas, they don’t. The coordination becomes a big hurdle, also due to electricity problems and lack of solar panels, we are not able to charge any electronic appliances,” another forest guard from MP, on the condition of anonymity, told this correspondent.
Also, inadequate staff to patrol forest areas creates a burden on the forest officers. An IFS officer from Maharashtra said, “One forest officer patrols 700 to 800 hectares whereas in other states, it can be around 1000 to 2000 hectares. Maharashtra has a better provision in this, but the reason behind patrolling 1,000 to 2,000 hectares is often due to geographical constraints and poor cadre management.”
Similarly, supporting the argument of lack of staff in the forest department, another IFS officer from Tamil Nadu told this paper, “The government has provided inadequate money for the welfare of the staff. Also, not 100% of posts are filled up, the vacancy in the posts leads to inadequate staff and insufficient financial allocation leads to issues in the field operations. At present, scientific development is enough so we are not required to send many people in the field and we keep vigilance using technologies; however, inadequate manpower is a hurdle.”
The Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change has been given a budget of Rs 2869.93 crore for 2021-22, which represents a 6% yearly increase over the actual spending in 2019-20. It specified that the budget estimate for Attached/ Subordinate offices is Rs 486.48 crore. However, as per the Notes on Demands for Grants, 2022-2023, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change may allocate Rs 3030 crore.
The welfare of the staff is considered in the form of compensation only when an officer gets injured during the line of duty. Otherwise, the officers are devoid of facilities. “Compensation money is present for injury and death. The medical reimbursement is present for the family and the compassionate jobs are provided to the kin/spouse if any forest staff is martyred on duty,” a retired IFS officer from Bengal told this paper.