Citizens will soon be able to call on a 24x7 toll free number (1926) to lodge complaints or get information about a variety of issues related to forests and wildlife.
In a first in the country, the Maharashtra forest department will launch a state-wide call centre facility from January 6. It will operate from Goregaon in Mumbai and is currently functioning on a trial basis.
So far, there was no medium through which citizens could contact the forest department for their queries, categorised in two segments: general and emergency.
Under the general category, inquisitive citizens can find out about plantations, conservation strategies, basic wildlife information about safaris, social forestry and all other basic avenues of the forest department.
In the second category, citizens can complain about illegal wildlife trade, illicit procurement of wild animals, poaching, forest fires, encroachments on reserved land, etc.
The call centre would circulate the query within the network and try to respond with a feedback within a minimum of 48 hours and maximum of four days. General enquiry information can be disseminated during the call itself.
“There has to be a single point public interface with the forest department. The idea is how to make the forest governance more credible, transparent and accountable to the public at large,” said forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar. “We hope to get some positive and constructive suggestions from the public, reduce misinformation and develop a better network from this collective exchange.”
The forest department appointed one SAAR IT Solutions Pvt Ltd in Goregaon for the service. The information technology (IT) director, the state forest department, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the company till August 2017.
“The state government had allowed us to use the technical support of the company for the call centre,” said P Srivastava, additional principal chief conservator of forests (APCCF) for IT and policy of the state forest department. “They are already providing call centre facilities to the state election commission, chief minister’s helpline and women and child welfare.”
Srivastava added that four main options will be available for every caller to choose from (see box) and the call centre team will be ready with details of the specific forest offices with their names, email ids and mobile numbers. “All forest offices have been mapped on their database. The call centre will provide unique identity numbers to each caller and all their details will be tabulated on their system,” he said, adding all calls will be recorded to prevent nuisance. There will be daily, weekly, fortnightly and monthly reviews of all calls from across the state.
The state has selected 12 subject experts from various departments on topics such as mangroves, forest development corporation and wildlife.
“On receiving complicated queries, the call centre will escalate the matter to these officers and will relay the information within a maximum of four days,” said Srivastava.