New Delhi: The Indian Forest Service (IFS) Association has said while the government has notified 11 September as ‘Forest Martyrs’ Day’, it has done “nothing concrete” so far for the welfare of frontline staff — forest guards, beat officers, deputy rangers and forest rangers.
In a letter to Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, the IFS Association has asked for an ex-gratia compensation package of at least Rs 25 lakh if a forest staff member loses his or her life in the line of duty, 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 the children of the deceased staffers. The scholarship is currently given to the children of deceased soldiers and police personnel.
The letter, dated 2 September and accessed by ThePrint, has also demanded an improvement in working conditions by providing staff members with necessary amenities such as toilets, bathrooms, supply of potable water, electricity, first-aid amenities, etc., and equipping them with firearms and other equipment under the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code.
India ‘deadliest’ for forest rangers
The Association has also demanded the constitution of the President’s Gallantry Medal for foresters making the “supreme sacrifice”. This, it said, is imperative since forest department staff work in the remotest areas of the country, executing the policies of the government and ensuring ecological security at high personal cost.
It has cited a report by the International Ranger Federation, which says India is the “deadliest” country for forest rangers, accounting for 162 deaths between 2012 and 2017 — 31 per cent of total forest ranger deaths in the world.
The reasons behind these deaths were confrontations with armed poachers, smugglers, illegal miners and encroachers, as well as forest fires, diseases and animal attacks.
“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.
While the government takes immense pride in achievements in the fields of forest protection and biodiversity conservation, particularly with regard to conservation of tigers, elephants and lions, little is done to protect the “prime force” — the forest staff — behind these achievements, it said.
“Working in the remotest areas of the country, quite often far away from their families as well as the comforts of the modern amenities, they devotedly execute the policies of the government and contribute towards the ecological security of the nation at high personal cost,” it said.
“They not only protect our nation’s natural resources from encroachers, timber smugglers, mining mafias and organised mafias, but also stand as an unwavering wall of defence between helpless villagers and the wild animals, whenever such a situation arises.”
Ramesh Yadav, a senior IFS officer, said he has seen several of his staff being killed, deformed or injured in the line of duty. Yet, there is limited recognition for their sacrifice.
“There is one issue of logistical amenities, in which the forest staff lags behind other uniformed forces,” Yadav told ThePrint. “But there is also a question of financial security and social prestige and recognition… The forest staff does not get its due in either.
“When police personnel and soldiers are considered martyrs when they lose their lives in the line of duty, why not forest staff? There should not be any distinction between martyrs of the country,” Yadav added.