New Delhi: Indian Forest Service (IFS) officers have demanded that the Prime Minister’s Scholarship Scheme be expanded to include children of forest personnel who are killed in the line of duty.
Within a few hours of Narendra Modi taking charge as PM for his second term, the cabinet extended the Prime Minister’s Scholarship Scheme to the children of police personnel who are killed in Naxalite or terrorist attacks. The scheme was earlier restricted to the wards of military and paramilitary personnel, as well as railway forces.
It also increased the amount of the scholarship to Rs 2,500 for boys and Rs 3,000 for girls. The earlier figures used to be Rs 2,000 for boys and Rs 2,250 for girls. A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said the decision was “in line with the Prime Minister’s vision for India’s safety, security and the well-being of those who protect the nation”.
While the cabinet decision has been widely welcomed by the defence and police forces — the IPS Association expressed its “heartfelt gratitude” to the PM for the decision — it has led to renewed demands by IFS officers to ensure that the government also provide for India’s green soldiers, who patrol the remotest of jungles without recognition or limelight.
“They are also government servants who often lose their lives in the line of duty — enforcing the law of the land in distant jungles,” said IFS officer Parveen Kaswan. “It is not a demand… It is only fair that the government looks after the children of these deceased martyrs as well.”
All forest staff who work on field — forest guards, beat officers, deputy rangers and forest rangers — are uniformed soldiers who have the authority to register cases under certain acts, arrest people, and carry weapons, said Kaswan. “They are just like the police… Just that they are not visible, and come nowhere in the popular imagination,” he said.
A deadly battle
Frontline forest staff confront deadly challenges in their line of duty on a daily basis. Not only do they have to routinely battle armed poachers, smugglers, illegal miners and encroachers, but are also vulnerable to forest fires, diseases, attacks by animals, etc.
According to a study by the International Ranger Federation, India was the most dangerous country in the world for forest rangers, accounting for more than 30 per cent of ranger deaths across the world.
Yet, unlike those who protect the borders, there is no central government scheme for the families of those who lose their lives protecting the forests.
“While nobody can undermine the importance of guarding the borders of the nation, the state should not neglect the huge economic and ecological contribution of the forest staff either,” said a senior IFS officer who did not want to be named.
“They just do their job and suffer in silence, and when there is talk of those defending the country, there is no mention of them. It is our fault as well… Senior IFS officers don’t pay much attention to the needs of their own staff. We also think they’ll manage.”
However, the political leadership also has to take responsibility, the officer added.
Demand gaining momentum
The demand is beginning to gain momentum. Last week, after the PM announced the changes in the scholarship scheme, actor Randeep Hooda, who is a vocal commentator on environmental issues, tweeted: “Dear Sir @narendramodi ji..A great step..also want to draw attention about uniformed staff in forest dept. India has highest casualties of rangers in world, lost life on duty fighting poachers & mafia. While working in remote places. We shd take care of their wards also @PMOIndia”.
Dear Sir @narendramodi ji..A great step..also want to draw attention about uniformed staff in forest dept. India has highest casualties of rangers in world, lost life on duty fighting poachers & mafia. While working in remote places. We shd take care of their wards also @PMOIndia https://t.co/UqrQD4gg9c
— Randeep Hooda (@RandeepHooda) June 1, 2019
The tweet was retweeted over a thousand times.
Hooda addressed the new ministers of environment and forests, Prakash Javadekar and Babul Supriyo, in another tweet: “Dear @PrakashJavdekar ji and @SuPriyoBabul brother .. this can be a great start by @moefcc under your charge and follows in line with the prime minister @narendramodi’s vision.. if we look after our first line of defence they will be encouraged to look after our heritage more.”
Dear @PrakashJavdekar ji and @SuPriyoBabul brother .. this can be a great start by @moefcc under your charge and follows in line with the prime minister @narendramodi ‘s vision.. if we look after our first line of defence they will be encouraged to look after our heritage more 🙏 pic.twitter.com/0Sswaw3Wb5
— Randeep Hooda (@RandeepHooda) June 1, 2019
However, providing scholarship is only part of the solution. Earlier this year, after a spate of attacks on forest officials in different parts of the country, the IFS Association tweeted that there is a need for systemic reforms to improve the security of forest officials.
Last week there was attack on Forest officials in Sundarbans. Need to bring systemic reforms to improve security aspect of Forest officials. @TOIIndiaNews @ndtv @the_hindu @ThePrintIndia
— IFS Association (@CentralIfs) April 27, 2019
Kaswan added: “Filling the massive (number of) vacancies, providing training and modernising the outdated weaponry of the forest staff would be some of the reforms that would go a long way in improving the abysmal condition of the country’s green soldiers”
Also read: The woman forest guard who stared a tiger down for 90 minutes, and lived to tell the tale
I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister @narendramodi for providing scholarship to the children of martyred, army para military and police personnel. I would request @PMOIndia and @PrakashJavdekar to also include the martyred forestry personnel.#PrakashJavadekar
Yes IFS officers and field staff which are forest department’s uniformed service deserve to be considered on equal footing. I had immediately tweeted on the same day and requested Prime Minister Modi ji and Forest Minister to take action on this. Dr VK Bahuguna former Director General of Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education and chancellor FRI university.
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