Bhubaneswar: At frontline for environment protection, forest staff remain far from Covid care
As per the statistics of Forest and Environment department, 26 forest staff - 23 regular and three para staff - have died due to Covid-19 during the first wave of the pandemic till March 25, 2021.
BHUBANESWAR: Around 50 forest personnel have lost their lives to Covid-19 on the line of duty but the State is yet to declare them Covid warriors and extend government benefits to their families. Even during the pandemic, field staff of the Forest department are involved in daily patrolling, wildlife conservation, protection and allied activities besides, man-animal conflict mitigation but they do not figure in the government’s priority list unlike other frontline workers.
As per the statistics of Forest and Environment department, 26 forest staff - 23 regular and three para staff - have died due to Covid-19 during the first wave of the pandemic till March 25, 2021. Of them, four were from Bhubaneswar circle, while three each were from Rourkela, Angul, Baripada and Koraput circles. One staff from Bhawanipatna circle, three from PCCF headquarters and two from PCCF (Wildlife) headquarters also lost their lives to the virus.
A senior official from the department said that an equal number of forest staff have also died in the last three months since March 26 including two senior bureaucrats this month. More than 200 forest staff have also recovered after being infected with the coronavirus.
Even as requests have been made to the State and Centre to tag forest staff as frontline Covid warriors and extend benefits to them as done in case of ASHA, anganwadi workers, health staff, veterinary staff and teachers following deaths, it has not been done so far. As a result, the ex-gratia to the kin of the deceased staff is being extended as per the existing provisions of insurance. Those contracting the virus are also not getting any priority support for treatment.
And as far as their vaccination is concerned, not all are inoculated yet. In fact, vaccination of the forest staff was taken up from May second week after the government included them in frontline workers category only for inoculation and as of June 25, only 62 per cent regular staff had received their second dose of vaccine. Reports suggest that roughly around 2,500 out of 4,000 regular field staff in the State have been inoculated with two doses of vaccines. Besides, there are about 3,500 para staff serving as forest watchers, nursery watchers, fire watchers and protection squad members etc. The government is yet to announce any concrete plan for their vaccination on priority.
The Indian Forest Service Association, in a letter to the State Chief Secretaries on May 14, had stated that the frontline forest staff are working in extremely challenging situations and dealing with forest communities daily which is why they should be declared frontline workers and vaccinated on priority. PCCF Sisir Kumar Ratho said that the DFOs have been asked to coordinate with the collectors and organise camps to speed up vaccination of the forest staff and reduce the risk of infection.
OUTSIDE VACCINE COVERAGE
2,500 of 4,000 regular field staff jabbed with 2 doses
No plans yet to jab 3,500 para staff
Over 200 forest staff recovered from Covid-19 since first wave
26 forest staff have died due to Covid-19