Odisha: Forest officials accorded police power to check wildlife crimes; conservationists welcome the move
Foresters can now easily track mobile phones of poachers and wildlife criminals. They have also been trained in the use of firearms.
Ashis Senapati 9 Oct 2023 8:46 AM GMT
The gunning down of two unarmed forest guards in less than a month, seizure of many illegal guns from the poachers by the security forces in Similipal Tiger Reserve, and poaching of many wild animals has led to a major decision by the Odisha government.
The state government has granted police powers to the forest officials to check wildlife crimes in the eastern state. This was announced last week, on October 7, by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) Sushil Kumar Popli on the concluding day of the 69th State Level Van Mahothsav Week. The event was attended by the state Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik virtually.
Popli said that after getting police power, forest officials can now easily track mobile phones of poachers and wildlife criminals involved in poaching activities in the forests across the state. “Earlier we were dependent on the police to get all the information on the poachers,” the PCCF said.
The state has put protection of wildlife in high priority because of which the government accorded police power to the forest officials, added Popli.
Three months back, on July 5, the state government had granted immunity to forest personnel for use of firearms for self-defence while dealing with the poachers and granted protection to forest officials under Section 197 (2) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) which authorises the use of firearms during official duty. Many forest officials in the state have been trained to use firearms.
As per the section- 197 (2): “No Court shall take cognizance of any offence alleged to have been committed by any member of the Armed Forces of the Union while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duty, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government”.
According to an estimate tabled in the State Assembly earlier this month on October 3, the forest minister Pradip Kumar Amat informed that altogether 698 elephants , 48 leopards, and eight Royal Bengal Tigers have been killed in the state between 2015 and 2023.
Two months back, police seized 165 illegal arms including 158 Single Barrel Muzzle Loaders, three pistols, two small handguns, two long barrel air guns and arrested 21 suspected poachers and wildlife smugglers in a special drive to curb poaching in Similipal Tiger Reserve in Mayurbhanj district.
Two years back, the administration had deployed four platoons of armed police to save the mangrove saplings in the seaside village Hetamundia, Saralakuda, Sanatubi , Badatubi, Kansaradiha and other villages under Mahakalapada forest range within Bhitarkanika National Park in Kendrapara district after large numbers of prawn farmers and others tried to uproot the saplings with an intention to convert the forest land into prawn farms and other purposes.
The Supreme Court in 2021 asked the Centre to consult states and consider arming lathi-wielding forest guards to meet the challenges posed by heavily armed poachers. A bench headed by Chief Justice of India S A Bobde also pointed to the need for a separate wildlife division of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to deal with proceeds of crimes committed against environment and wildlife.
When contacted Biswajit Mohanty, an environmentalist and the secretary of Wildlife Society of Odisha said, “Many poachers are well equipped with guns whereas most of the forest guards are doing their duties without any arms. The shortage of protection staff in the forest department is also posing a hurdle for the forest department to check poaching.”
He went on to add that police power will help forest officials to nab many poachers without getting any help from the police. “The state government should establish special courts for the speedy trial and conviction of poachers,” said Mohanty.