PALAKKAD: The pasting of posters by suspected Maoists targetting Forest Department personnel in Wayanad and Mukkali again brings to the fore the need to modernise the functioning of the Department as in the present circumstances, the security personnel could easily become sitting ducks for armed gangs.
Says T M Manoharan, the present chairman of the Kerala State Electricity Regulatory Commission who had headed the four-man committee constituted to modernise the Forest Department while he was the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, “I had made many recommendations which if implemented could help in the effective functioning of the Department. The report is available on the website of the Forest Department. As I retired three years ago, I do not know what happened to it.”
However, the president of the Kerala Forest Protective Staff Association K Jayakumar is more forthright. “The government just received the report of the Manoharan Committee which was submitted at the fag end of the LDF rule which was gathering dust. It is a voluminous report and we do not want it to be implemented at one go, but at least in phases. It is the duty of the government to offer all possible resources to protect the lives of the forest personnel who undertake duty in the interiors of the forests.” As in the case of the police forces, the personnel of one division are usually not transferred to another in the Forest Department. The camps of the Forest Department are situated 20 to 40 kilometres inside the forest. In each of these camps, there are only four personnel-2 guards, one forester and one watcher. While one team does duty for one week, another replaces them the next week. All these personnel need to be given revolvers for self-protection.
The general secretary of the Association M V Baby said that the Manoharan Committee report had clearly spelt out the areas of modernisation of forest protection in terms of mobility, communication and equipment. It had also highlighted the infrastructure needs for a modern forest force and human resource requirements. He said that the threats of the Maoists need to be taken seriously by the government and an action plan needs to be formulated. There is the need to convene a high-level Revenue, Police and Forest personnel meeting at the district-level to chalk out a strategy to deal with the issue firmly. Jayakumar pointed out that large estate owners in Kerala had over the years cornered forest land by encroaching on it. These lands can be taken back and distributed to the landless Adivasis of the state. The personnel of the Forest Department also need to be made partners in development activities undertaken in Adivasi inhabited areas. He said that one unit of the Thunderbolt force needs to be stationed at Mukkali.
There is the need for setting up three new forest stations under the Mannarkad division at Bommiampadi, Cheechipara in Silent Valley National park and Amabalapara. Baby points out that 43 women tribal watchers of the Forest Department have been posted on deputation in the Agriculture Department in Agali. These deputations need to be cancelled and they should be posted as promoters in Adivasi oorus under the Forest Department. The personnel of the Forest Department posted in the deep, dense jungle need to be paid risk allowances apart from being provided self-protection equipment.