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KARNATAKA FOREST FIELD STAFF SUFFER AMID RISING COVID-19 INFECTION AND PATROLING DUTIES

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By GreenMinute News

The month of May has been very worrying for the Karnataka Forest Department as they have lost many frontline forest staff to Covid-19 infection. Since May 1st, some 8 forest officials and forest staff have died while many of them are getting infected while performing their duties and responsibilities to protect the state’s forests and wildlife. 

Across many districts, forest personnel at all levels from DCF to field staff have been drafted for Covid-19 duties by the concerned district administration. The Karnataka forest department has a strength of 136 IFS officers, 650 RFOs, 1954 DRFOs, 2937 forest guards and 981 forest guards working across the state.

In this regard, V Yedukondalu, Deputy Conservator of Forests, MM Hills Wildlife Division has the additional charge of being the Nodal Officer for Chamarajanagara district. 

As nodal officer, he has been working 24 hours in the district (which recently saw many oxygen related deaths) to ensure oxygen is supplied to the hospitals from the source to the patient without any delays. Agencies in Mysuru refill the supplies and also supply of liquid oxygen from Ballari has to be coordinated and scheduled. It is not an easy job as every day, he has to ensure that all hospitals have adequate oxygen supply and the Oxygen supply chain works without any hitch and problems. 

“It is actually a hand to mouth situation in the state as far as Oxygen supply is concerned. In this background, we have to ensure that the supply chain works and further, oxygen is not wasted and used judiciously. Oxygen auditing is necessary and the monitoring committee will oversee whether supply to patients is timely, used judiciously in the wards, deployment as per demand and other parameters. Every day, stocks are checked and ensured that supply chain is maintained …….” the DCF stresses.

The 8 forest department personnel who lost their lives in May include 1 RFO, 4 DRFOs and 2 forest guards and 1 forest watcher:

MAILARAPPA KONGI, DRFO, CANARA CIRCLE

ULUGAPPA UPPAR, DRFO, AYYANUR RANGE, SHIVAMOGGA CIRCLE

BASAVARAJU M J, DRFO GUBBI RANGE, TUMAKURU DIVISION

SHIVANANDA M INDI, FOREST GUARD,SIRSI FOREST SQUAD

BASAVARAJU, FOREST GUARD, DAVANGERE RANGE

KHAN, DRFO, COWDAHALLY RANGE, MM HILLS WILDLIFE DIVISION

H M RIZWAN AHMED, RFO, RESEARCH, MANDYA

SURAKOD, FOREST WATCHER, RAMDURGA RANGE

Karnataka Forest department staff should be included in the essential list and the state government should consider then as “Frontline warriors” says G Veeresh, honorary wildlife warden, Chikkamagaluru. Most of the ground level staff are working under tremendous pressure being exposed to the deadly Covid virus. They can only be safe and protect to save the forest and wildlife if the government announces life insurance up to Rs 50 lakh in case of deaths as it in the case of Covid front line warriors. In case of serious treatment, the government should support the staff providing immediate health facilities to save their life. They should provide health covid insurance to each of the staff and also insurance cover to their family members for covid treatment.  In fact, the government should act immediately.”

In the wake of continuing deaths and rising number of infections among the frontline forest staff, the state forest department has appealed to the state government to declare them as frontline staff (essential services). According the forest department, this will help in getting 

forest staff vaccinated on priority basis even as the police, health and other department staff are receiving vaccination and other medical support. 

With the forest department staff maintaining more vigil and implementing high protection from hunting and poaching during the lockdown for the second wave of Covid-19, the department has been witnessing more and more positive cases in its territorial and wildlife divisions across the state. Further, some of them have succumbed to the deadly virus. 

“The frontline staff have been instructed to protect the forest from encroachments, handle man-animal conflicts, tackle fires, control forest offences, wildlife protection and also perform their duties as usual,” states Sanjai Mohan, Karnataka PCCF and Head of Forest Force in his letter to the additional chief secretary (forests).

 “We are guarding the forests which is the biggest and perennial source of Oxygen and in the present crisis, this must be acknowledged,” the PCCF adds. Frontline forest staff is working round the clock and has been directed to be extra vigilant as hunting and poaching cases tend to increase during lockdown period.

Meanwhile, the (IFS) Association, Central unit has appealed to all state governments to declare “forest staff” as “frontline workers” in the ongoing efforts against the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The IFS association has stressed that even during the national lockdown, the forest department had remained active when almost the entire country had come to a standstill. It has proactively shouldered the additional responsibilities of helping the forest communities during the pandemic even as continuing with their mandated responsibilities of protecting the country’s biodiversity.

Dr Saket Badola, IFS Association, Secretary General states in his communication to the state governments, “Several forest staff have unfortunately contracted the virus and sadly succumbed to it. Those who have lost their lives include employees from all ranks ranging from senior IFS officers to daily wagers who were involved in the protection of India’s ecological wealth.” 

With 25,000 field staff and 3000 officers working across the country, it is hoped the state governments will take up this matter on a priority basis and immediately grant the status of frontline workers, the IFS association appeals.