FIRST THE good news: There are 273 tigers in Uttar Pradesh, according to the 2005 census. Now, the bad news: Field staff responsible for protecting the ‘big cats’ are ageing. More than 51 per cent of the about 11,000 field staff in Uttar Pradesh is above the age of 52. The number of vacancies for field staff has gone up by 17 per cent of the sanctioned posts. And, this is just one of the problems the UP Forest Department is grappling with.
The field staff involved in the protection of forests and wildlife is not trained to tackle emergencies whereas, the mafia and criminals have a well-connected network!
Each forest guard or forester has to cover a beat (his area of patrolling) 600 to 700 hectares. “In some of the areas, the guard has to cover 1,000 hectares all alone without any vehicle or fire-arms,” says a forest guard, adding that, there are no incentives for “good work”. A forest guard also said, in case of theft in any area, deductions are made from the in-charge’s salary. Majority of the beat in-charges are already listed for such penalties but all requests to assign smaller areas to the in-charges have gone unheard.
Another official told Hindustan Times, 9 per cent of the field staff has been appointed on compassionate grounds. Most of these are women who are not fit to handle field areas.
Range Officers (RO) supervise 17-18 beats each. Sometimes, they end up looking after 22 beats on a single day on a motorcycle. But only half of the 700 ROs in the state have been provided with motorcycles. “The firearms provided to us are also inadequate,” said an RO, adding that, the Department does not offer and legal protection either. “In case we shoot at a poacher we are put on trial just like anyone else,” said another RO. There are several officers and guards who are facing trial under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code.
However, sources also told HT Correspondent that a fresh Government Order is being issued by the Home Department to ensure that no case is registered against a forester if it is verified that he used the firearm in the interest of the State.
Meanwhile, Chief Wildlife Warden Mohammad Ahsan says the Forest Department was looking for younger staff but they were on the back foot because of a freeze on recruitments.