New Delhi: The central government has constituted a committee to look into the concerns surrounding the working conditions of frontline forest staff, days after the Indian Forest Service (IFS or IFoS) Association wrote to the Union environment ministry and said they had done “nothing concrete” for their welfare.
According to an office memorandum (OM) issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) this week, the committee will study and recommend measures required to be taken to improve the working conditions for frontline forest staff on protection duty, and suggest steps for commemorating forest “martyrs” as done with police personnel killed in the line of duty.
The committee will be chaired by Keshav Saran Varma, founding director of the World Bank’s Global Tiger Initiative, said the OM, a copy of which was accessed by ThePrint.
Other members include A.K. Goyal, a retired IFS officer, besides the principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) and head of Forest Force (HoFF), Karnataka, inspector general of forest (Wildlife), MoEFCC, and deputy inspector general (DIG), Research and Training Division, MoEFCC.
Speaking about the step, a senior environment ministry official said this has been “a longstanding and absolutely valid demand of those working in the remotest parts of the country to protect us ecologically”.
“The government has taken cognisance of this demand, and this committee will examine all possible solutions to ensure the welfare of forest staff, many of whom lose their lives every year in the line of duty,” the official added.
A longstanding demand
IFS officers have for a long time demanded social and financial recognition for forest staff, who confront innumerable challenges and dangers from armed poachers, smugglers, illegal miners and encroachers, forest fires, diseases, wild animals, etc as part of their duty.
As reported by ThePrint last week, the IFS Association had in a letter to Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar sought an ex gratia compensation package of at least Rs 25 lakh if a forest staffer loses life in the line of duty. Other demands included payment of full salary to the family of the deceased for the number of years of service remaining, and extension of the Prime Minister’s scholarship scheme to their children. The scholarship is currently given to the children of deceased soldiers and police personnel.
The association had also cited a study by the International Ranger Federation, which seeks to promote the interest of forest staffers around the world, that found India to be the most “deadliest” country for forest rangers, accounting for 162 deaths between 2012 and 2017 — 31 per cent of total forest ranger deaths in the world.
“Although state governments are continuously trying to improve the working conditions of the field staff, it is time that urgent efforts are made to provide safer working conditions to these protectors of nature, as well as to extend an improved social security cover to these green soldiers, who are sacrificing their present for our future, by coming out with a national policy and general guidelines for states,” the letter stated.