New Delhi: The Indian Forest Service — the relatively obscure ‘IFS’ in the pantheon of India’s civil services — is growing in prominence thanks to social media.
A number of young IFS officers with popular Twitter accounts are beginning to highlight the nature of their jobs inside dense, remote forests, and the problems and roadblocks they face.
The IFS is one of the three All India Services (AIS), along with the IAS and the IPS. AIS mean services whose officers are allotted state cadres, and can be brought to the Centre on deputation.
The broad mandate of the IFS is to implement the National Forest Policy, which “envisages scientific management of forests”, and to exploit them “on a sustained basis for primary timber products, among other things”.
But so far, in terms of public perception, the IFS has been far removed from the IAS & IPS — metaphorically as well as literally. It has been viewed as a department that blocks development, infringes on tribal rights etc. But this perception is gradually being upended by the young officers, who articulate their stories through social media.
Getting mainstream attention
Last month, when Chole Anitha, a woman forest range officer carrying out an afforestation drive in Telangana, was brutally attacked by a mob, videos of the attack immediately went viral. Several IFS officers condemned the attack, and called for stern action against the perpetrators.
Shameful, utter shameful. Who is this goon? A lady range officer is being attacked with sticks when she has gone to attempt planting. Where is the protection from doing one’s duty. This man who has instigated such attack, should be given a befitting reply, 1/n https://t.co/AiqmjXLb7d
— Dipika Bajpai (@dipika_bajpai) June 30, 2019
What a shame. Attacking public servant Just because they are doing their duty. https://t.co/vJqxIwNRMF
— Parveen Kaswan (@ParveenKaswan) June 30, 2019
Again on a Lady officer
Why is this insensitiveness towards #Forest?
Pls understand, forest staff work for u & ur children's – air, water, environment. We cannot live without those#StopAttackingForestershttps://t.co/VTrOkN4eiu
— Sudha Ramen IFS 🇮🇳 (@SudhaRamenIFS) July 3, 2019
However, this was not the only time young officers came forward to throw light on the struggles of their job, which requires dodging forest fires, mitigating man-animal conflict, combating illegal activity, and encountering wild animals on a daily basis.
“There is a saying in Hindi, ‘jungle mein mor nacha, kisne dekha?’ (literally, if a peacock danced in a jungle, who saw it?). For us, this is real, since the forest and remote places are our workplace,” said Parveen Kaswan, one of the most-popular IFS officers on Twitter with over 37,500 followers.
Kaswan routinely posts pictures and information on conservation, wildlife and other environmental issues — a lot of which gets followed up by news portals and other social media users.
“For me, social media is a good platform to spread information and awareness about my field, because the mainstream media is never able to reach us,” he said.
“The point is that 25 per cent of India’s land is under forest cover, yet there was no news about it. That is beginning to change now…We have been able to make stories on environment, forests, wildlife etc. cut through the Delhi-based news.”
Sudha Ramen, a 2013-batch officer from the Tamil Nadu cadre, agrees. “Our service has never been too popular, but we weren’t running after popularity… But now since issues related to the environment are becoming so important, we feel it is our responsibility to make people aware,” Ramen said.
Here is one other Plastic river.
What a sight! No words to say. pic.twitter.com/Fyj1ZIHgoq
— Sudha Ramen IFS 🇮🇳 (@SudhaRamenIFS) July 9, 2019
"I work at the grassroot level& i am in touch with a lot of people. So, I know what issues officers who work in the forest department go through&how they live in hostile conditions. They deserve respect."@RandeepHooda well said 👍https://t.co/ngfoMvjLte
— Sudha Ramen IFS 🇮🇳 (@SudhaRamenIFS) July 3, 2019
Often, these young officers seek to promote the work done by their peers, who may not be as tech- and social media-savvy. “The idea is to promote the work done by us as a service… And you do that by highlighting individual achievements,” said Jayoti Banerjee, a 2003-batch IFS officer of the Maharashtra cadre, who was also recently attacked by a mob of stone-pelters.
“Earlier we used to just get bad press because we are the convenient scapegoat for everyone. NGOs, politicians, industries — everyone sees us as a roadblock, but the truth is that if not for the forest department, we would be staring at a dystopia without any forest cover…We just need to let people know that.”
These officers also seek to highlight the needs and demands of their entire department. Recently, a number of officers on social media demanded that the Prime Minister’s Scholarship Scheme be expanded to include children of forest personnel who are killed in the line of duty.
IFS officers have also routinely demanded better security for forest staff — a demand that is beginning to gain momentum in the wake of a series of attacks against them.
“Social media is bridging the gap between our cadres and the central government,” said Ramen, explaining how the IFS Association is able to communicate about the needs of the cadre to the government through social media.
The gravity of the situation can be understood by the fact that in Maharashtra alone in the last 11 yrs (March 20, 2008 to March 20, 2019), 650 Forest officials have been attacked or mishandled.IFS association has briefed the situation to @HMOIndia and @PrakashJavdekar ji.
— IFS Association (@CentralIfs) July 8, 2019
According to Banerjee, there is still some resistance among senior IFS officers to express themselves freely on Twitter. But most young officers are beginning to realise the need for forest officers “to capture the public imagination”, she said.