The Election Commission (EC) has violated its own rules by posting forest officials from across India on election duty, thereby exposing some wildlife habitats to poachers and timber smugglers.
The EC had directed all state governments and chief electoral officers in 1998 that no official from the wildlife parks and sanctuaries should be posted on election duty.
“The vehicles and staff of wildlife sanctuaries, national sanctuaries and national game parks should not be requisitioned for election duty,” the EC order had said.
Despite the order, the EC has deputed forest officials for election duty in five states where assembly elections are scheduled later this year. Officials from outside these five states have been appointed as observers and micro-observers to ensure third party monitoring.
The deputy director of Periyar tiger reserve in Kerala, Sanjayan Kumar, has been deputed for election duty in Rajasthan. SEH Kazmi, who manages a tiger reserve in the Maoist-affected Palamu district, is also on the election duty list. GS Bhardwarj, director of Desert National Park, will be on election duty in Madhya Pradesh.
Other mid and lower level forest officials have also been summoned with their official vehicles by state level and district level officials. This is bound to create a security vacuum in the poorly protected wildlife areas.
Prerna Bindra, former member of National Board for Wildlife, said the posting which will last for over a month is a violation of the EC’s standing instruction. “Protected areas are already acutely understaffed and we simply cannot afford to stress them further," she added.
MK Ranjitsinh of Wildlife Trust of India said in a letter to the EC that the protected areas are already facing a shortage of 22,000 personnel and election duty would “attract poaching and timber smugglers”.
Seeking EC intervention, the letter endorsed by former board members said that if the violation is not corrected it would pose a bigger danger in 2014 when general elections would be conducted.