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A Recipe To Help India’s Green Warriors

On May 22, Bimal Kumar Jena, 40, a forest guard posted at in the core area of Odisha’s Similipal tiger Reserve, was shot dead by poachers. A month later, on June 17, Mathi Hansda, 40, a forest ranger, was killed by poachers, while patrolling along with five other staff members in Similipal South. Two months later, another forest guard Aane Venkatesh was trampled to death by an injured elephant in Hasan district of Karnataka when he was trying to tranquilise it for treatment. Sadly, Venkatesh was working as daily wager as forest department could not provide him with a permanent job.

These are but a few incidents that depict the hazards of foresters guarding our forests and the wildlife against poaching, illegal tree-felling and habitat destruction. They are the first line of defence. That is why Government in 2013 declared September 11 as Forest Martyr’s Day to commemorate their sacrifices in saving the environment and thus our future.

A Forest Guard trampled to death by a wild elephant in Rajaji Tiger Reserve

Forest guards mostly have to trudge inside treacherous forest terrain on foot and are often ill-equipped to combat poachers using sophisticated automatic weapons. That’s why the two deaths in Similipal this year provoked protests by contractual guards demanding safety, security, and welfare of forest staff. Over 600 contractual field staff vacated the reserve after the second death while more than 100 forest guards stopped fieldwork. Personnel from the police department had to be roped in to patrol the reserve area.

PROBLEMS GALORE

There also is the issue of manpower shortage. Similipal for example is having a 40 per cent shortfall of forest staff. That’s why each forest guard has to patrol almost 20-25 square kms area. While poachers hunt in groups, forest gruards have to man a vast area. That’s why they are demanding bulletproof vests, better firepower, infrared cameras and drone for effective surveillance of forest area under them.

Kundan Kumar, an Indian Forest Service officer posted in Uttarakhand, has on Forest Martyr’s Day written a long post enumerating the dangers and security concerns of forest guards. As Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Haldwani he witnessed death of Bhuwan Ram, a dedicated forest watcher = a temporary daily wage worker – who was trampled by an elephant while patrolling the forest.

Van Sewaks or Forest Protection Guards in South Betul Forest Division equipped with new uniforms

HEAVY RESPONSIBILITIES

According to him forest guards or Green Soldiers, as he prefers to call them, are tasked with Biodiversity Conservation, balancing tourism and ecology, stopping forest fires, checking illegal mining, combat poaching and mitigating Human-Wildlife conflict.

There is no panacea for the issue yet the pressure on forest guards can be substantially reduced with community engagement, introduction of technology and training, tourism management, climate resilience for reforestation and combating climate change.

THE SOLUTION

Mr Kumar has also advocated bringing in suitable amendments to forest laws to empower green soldiers with the minimal, reasonable and proportionate use of force when required, similar to the powers given to the police under Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

This would not only enhance their ability to respond effectively to threats but also ensure their personal safety. Such amendments should be carefully crafted to strike a balance between conservation efforts and the protection of these dedicated individuals.

Mr Kumar recalls how he and his staff had contributed to generate a corpus for the slain forest guard Bhuwan Ram’s family. That’s why he has advocated establishment of a Benevolent Fund,institution of awards and medals for their bravery, raising public awareness besides supporting educational support to the children of martyred green soldiers.

A number of dignitaries including top forest officials and Union ministers have sent messages on Forest Martyrs Day. Union Minister fir Environment Forest and Climate Change Mr Bhupender Yadav tweeted..

National Tiger Conservation Authority chief Mr SP Yadav too sent a message..

Inspector General Forests Mr Ramesh Pandey wrote…

IFS officers Mr Parveen Kaswan from West Bengal Buxa Tiger Reserve and Mr Anupam Sharma posted in Madhya Pradesh’s Burhanpur wrote about history of Fortest Martyrs Day…

Madhya Pradesh’s Kanha Tiger Reserve officials too took to social media…

IFS officer Anurag Arya of 2021 batch tweeted…

Lady Forest Officials too tweeted…

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