B K Singh & R S Tejus:
People are supreme while forests, wildlife and other natural elements are secondary, opines former Karnataka Revenue Minister Kagodu Thimmappa. During his times as district in charge minister, Shivamogga district saw maximum diversion of forest lands under Forest Rights Act. “The first duty of a government servant is to help people and not give prime importance to forests and wildlife. Forests should help people survive, otherwise, there is no point in conservation of forests.”
On a daily basis, forest officers across the country deal with such fanatic political leaders. Working as a forest officer and choosing to become one – comes with many challenges that are unimaginable. It is, in fact, a more challenging job than other law enforcement agencies as neither politicians nor people are for conservation of forests or wildlife. It is therefore, not surprising politicians will go to any extent for votes by making it extremely difficult for forest officers to work.
The frequent abuse of forest workforce by the Indian political fiefdom in person and in the legislative assembly will have a very negative impact on the morale of the personnel. In Karnataka, the districts of Shivamogga, Uttar Kannada, Hassan, Ramnagara and Kodagu are the most turbulent places to work as forest officers.
In fact, a few years back, in the Mugguru Range of Cauvery Sanctuary, local politicians instigated a conspiracy against forest officials. It all began when a villager was not allowed to enter the forests for cattle grazing. This turned into a riot resulting in stone-pelting and burning of two-wheelers and anti-poaching camps, etc. To be precise, forest officers are caught in between the devil and the deep sea as there is no support from the people or the politicians.
Dealing with Encroachments draws significant anger from politicians. Encroachments are encouraged by politicians which is a crime as per law. Tough reforms are the need of the hour. Forest staff in the field face the wrath of villagers as also political representatives for taking action against encroachments, illegal tree felling, forest fire, grazing etc. Senior officers in charge of divisions, circles and state are forced to sign diversion proposals on the dotted lines.
Many of the forest diversion proposals like:
- Revival of Hubbali-Ankola Rail Project
- Widening of National Highways
- Doubling of Rail tracks
- Revival of old Coupe roads through forests as district roads
are being done under the guise of providing last mile connectivity. These are contractor-driven but are backed by politicians and bureaucrats.
Such big projects are taken up for generation of funds (also finding resources for election) and less for development. With such big stakes involved, destruction of nature is enormous. The process does not end in onetime loss of some forest patches but continues endlessly. Many senior bureaucrats end up signing “forest destruction” on the dotted line. Only time will tell when such unsustainable and catastrophic developments will stop?
IPCC REPORT WARNING
The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report has cautioned the humanity with disastrous consequences if business continues as usual and the warming of the planet is not restricted to 1.5 0 C. Although world leaders have shown the road map by announcing Net Zero of respective countries between 2050-70, the report says GHG emission must peak by 2025 and not later if we have any chance of restricting warming to 1.50 C.
For the first time, IPCC report says individuals should consider reducing Carbon Footprints by their action. People must prevail on their leaders not to take up environmentally unsustainable activity which results in huge carbon footprints. The only chance we have: if ‘environment and climate change’ becomes an election agenda. A mass movement is, therefore, needed to conserve Nature and stop plundering forests which are important carbon sinks.
Destruction of forests anywhere in the world has wide ranging implications as we destroy all important sink for carbon that may cause quicker warming of the planet. When leaders in charge of 85 percent of forests across the globe have pledged to stop deforestation by 2030, India did not even sign the pact.
In this background, the functioning of the forest department is going to be increasingly difficult. They may have to do tight rope walking initially but will have to affix the stamps of destruction of forests. If an officer wants to swim against the current, he is generally shown the door and posted in some insignificant post.
TOUGH FOR FIELD STAFF
Preservation of environment and conservation of forests and wildlife is a very difficult job. Often it requires long walks, treks with equipment in remote, inhospitable terrains. If RFOs, Deputy RFOs, and Forest Guards only move in the vehicle, they will be in no position to protect all corners of their jurisdiction. Walking in forests is therefore, absolutely necessary on their part. Their physical fitness level should be of very high standard.
I recollect an incident in the Kutiyala beat of Brahmagiri Wildlife sanctuary in 2011-12, when three acres of evergreen forests were cleared by miscreants and ganja cultivation was done. The incident did not come to the notice of forest staff for nearly three months as no front-line staff moved in that area. The area was approachable only on foot but staff avoided it as there was heavy leach infestation in peak rainy season.
Later action was taken against officials and everyone from Forest Guard to Deputy Conservator of Forests was placed under suspension. But we lost precious three acres of evergreen forests in prime wildlife habitat which provided corridor connectivity for elephants and other species. I would like to add here that evergreen forests have the best Carbon Sequestration potential.
If forest officers do not perform their duty for any reason – say difficulty of movement in inhospitable terrain or under pressure from political masters, then irreparable damage is caused to the society and people will have to pay for it. So, Government must create a more congenial atmosphere for the functioning of the frontline staff by ensuring that they keep up their fitness level and also ensure that political leaders do not interfere or put any kind of pressure.
(B K Singh is Retired Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Head of Forest Force), Karnataka while R S Tejus is a Wildlife Conservation enthusiast)