For,

 

Shri Jairam Ramesh

The Minister of State (Independent Charge)

Ministry of Environment and Forests,

Government of India

I would like to draw your attention towards India’s forest guards, particularly watchers/trackers who are daily wagers—and are our frontline force to protect tigers, and other critically endangered wildlife.

Nearly 40 years ago, India, under the leadership of Prime Minister Shrimati Indira Gandhi, initiated Project Tiger, and proved its commitment to conservation by initiating various crucial projects, landmark schemes and providing legal and policy framework. Since then, India has pioneered various initiatives and prides in being a leader in tiger conservation.

forest guards_kaziranga
But four decades on, the situation on the field particularly in context of the of forest guards/watchers remains the same:

Forest watchers form the bulk of the protection force but are grossly underpaid (from Rs 1,500-3,000 a month). Further, they are rarely paid on time—at times wages have been delayed for a year.
They are untrained and underequipped.  Consequently, their motivation levels are very low.

While their duty is tough and highly demanding, the watchers do not have access to basic facilities such as clean water, protective rain/winter gear, etc.

They are not insured, even though their task is risky, and many have been injured or lost their lives on duty. Many daily wagers remain so, after decades of duty, but do not have any benefits. No job security, no pension, no medical benefits.

They have no fixed working hours, if they go to buy ration, or to pick up their wages, or on leave-their is no back-up. Their beat, or patch of forest simply remains unguarded.
There is a need for some welfare measures i.e. payment of wages on time (seed capital in Tiger Conservation foundations that can be used to pay staff in case of delays), insurance schemes that covers frontline staff, provision of ration, etc.
These are just suggestions based on visits to the field. We need to raise the profile of those at the frontline of the forests. If thought advisable, there can be a committee or some such to come up with recommendations for the welfare of frontline staff so as to motivate our green army and make them effective in the very critical task of protecting tigers, and our eco-systems.

 

Prerna Singh Bindra

June 26, 2011

 

Pix credit: This pic was sent to me by someone. Unsure of the credit.If any idea of the photographer, please do let me know so it can be properly credited.