The Delhi forest department has revealed part of the reason why it has been struggling to protect and augment greenery in the capital - a severe staff and resource crunch.
Replying to a Right to Information (RTI) application, the department has admitted that in its north and west divisions, a total of 172 posts are lying vacant. The south division alone also has almost the same number of vacancies.
In repeated letters to the government, the department has admitted to facing acute shortage of frontline staff for protection and conservation of forests and wildlife.
The RTI reply also reveals no frontline staff is ever available for night duty. RTI applicant AN Prasad said, “The department wants you to believe that no tree-felling or wildlife smuggling takes place at night.”
No wonder Delhi’s green areas have been suffering. Noted environmentalist Pradip Krishen recently said, “I often wonder how Delhi’s forest department envisions its role. In the past several years that I have been working in the ridge area, I have not come across a single forest department staff there.”
The west division has five wireless sets - all of them non-functional. “Wireless sets are a symbol of government authority and people are cautious when they see us use them. So during inspections, we carry the defunct ones,” confessed a range officer.
This is not all. The guards have no weapons. “There is not much wildlife in Delhi. But local politicians with armed bodyguards, builders and sometimes goons enter the office in large numbers… We often feel insecure,” admitted another official.
Even water is an issue. The west division which has a sanctioned strength of 315 staff does not have a water connection. It sources water from a borewell. But the department headquarters in Vikas Bhawan are supplied packaged water.
The last time the staff were issued uniforms was in the 1990s. “So when an average forest guard goes out to investigate a tree felling case, everyone snubs him,” said Prasad.
There is also a massive crunch of heavy vehicles. The RTI reply shows an official as senior as deputy range officer cannot use a four-wheeler.