Union Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh has written to Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, asking for his intervention to ensure that vacant posts of frontline forest staff are filled.
This comes days after a lioness killed a forest guard at Borivli’s national park and several poaching incidences seen in the Tadoba and Andhari reserve.
State Forest Minister Patangrao Kadam said recruiting frontline staff is top priority of the forest department. “We have received the communication and are on the job with a area-wise recruitment plan in place,” he said.
The letter sent on May 6 mentioned that “frontline forestry personnel be provided adequate promotional avenues and opportunities to upgrade their skills to enable them to meet the new challenges in management and enforcement at the grassroot level”.
The state has been sanctioned 13,094 posts of frontline staff, of which 769 are vacant. This staff is in charge of guarding the 46,865 sq km of forest cover in Maharashtra.
Ramesh said that in the past year having interacted with the frontline staff, which includes forest guards, forest rangers, foresters, he said they are doing stellar work despite adverse conditions and with limited facility and equipment.
“We need to do more for them. I am committed to working out special incentives for frontline staff everywhere, especially for those who are working in Naxalite-affected areas, where we have a large share of our dense forests,” Ramesh said.
“A share of the forestry grant of Rs 5,000 crore given by the Thirteenth Finance Commission to the states should also be used for providing infrastructure and support to the frontline staff,” he said.
Of this, the Finance Commission has set aside Rs 310 crore for protection and regeneration of forests in Maharashtra.
Ramesh also noted the importance that needs to be given to the staff to protect the forests, prevent wildlife crime and even mitigate the impact of climate change. This is not the first time that he has explicitly stated his views. On March 6, when Ramesh was attending a function with Kadam, he had ticked him off publicly saying it was a crisis situation for the Maharashtra forest department.