The Assam government has authorised the use of firearms by forest staff to ensure better protection of its forests and wildlife, an official said on Friday.
"The order also provides immunity to forest officials from prosecution without prior sanction in case of firing incidents," VK Bisnoi, principal chief conservator of forests (general), said on phone.
He said: "Forest officials in the past needed a licence to use firearms. Now they don't need one and are at par with the police. They will be able to use firearms like SLR rifles and other weapons."
He added that all forest officers from front-line staff to the senior-most members of the department can use firearms.
However, a magisterial enquiry will probe the firing cases and criminal proceedings can be initiated against erring officials if the use of firearms is proven "unnecessary, unwarranted and excessive", the order released by the governor's office July 14 said.
"We have been waiting for this order for a long time. When we approached Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain, they were very supportive and agreed on the need for this order," the official said.
He said: "We are currently checking if the police has spare weapons that we can take. It will depend on the availability of funds for buying new weapons."
The NGO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) said that the measure will help tackle mounting threats to forests and wildlife in protected areas.
The under-equipped front-line staff have been in a disadvantage position when fighting organised poaching gangs, it said.
WTI coordinator Rathin Barman said: "It will give a big boost to their morale, as forest officials will now have the same powers as the police."