Strange are the ways of Odisha Government. In May, it announced creation of tiger protection force (TPF) for Similipal to combat a growing band of modernised syndicate of poachers and smugglers, but seems to have forgotten to delegate the powers to it.
The TPF, as things stand today, has no immunity, which its police counterpart has been vested with for protection duty. It means when the force comes into being, its personnel will have to chase the poachers and timber mafia with ‘lathis’ for, they cannot use their firearms. If at all they do in the face of an attack, they will have police cases registered against them and must defend themselves in a court of law. Wildlife conservation norms cannot possibly get any more self-defeating than this in a State where the Government swears by its rich bio-diversity.
Recently, the Forest and Wildlife Department presented the paradox before the State Government seeking a change to the existing norms which will go a long way in bolstering the sagging morale of Forest officers in the tiger territory.
The Similipal TPF (STPF) will comprise a company, headed by an assistant conservator of forests (ACF), with 112 personnel. It will have three range officers, 18 foresters and 90 forest guards in the ranks, but will have no police powers as such. For records sake, Similipal has been witness to a rising number of attacks by smugglers and poachers. Post-Naxal attack three years back, the violators appear to have been emboldened and the Government’s stand has helped them all the more.
As the STPF has been announced, but it will take some time to be ready on the ground, the Wildlife Wing has already sought that all the Forest officials, working in the tiger reserve, be sanctioned immunity with immediate effect if the deteriorating law and order situation inside the tiger habitat needs to be arrested. Such immunity has been in place in Karnataka and Kerala and a host of other states. What the Wildlife Wing, however, has sought is not carte blanche for the officials working in Similipal. It has set riders to keep a check on any unauthorised use of the immunity.
Instead of slapping a police case, every case of firing may be inquired by a magistrate. Incidents, where use of firearms are found unwarranted, the officials may be taken to task. This will work as a deterrent on unnecessary use of power,” said sources in the State Wildlife Wing.
Similipal, which has witnessed a spree of elephant poaching cases in the last few years, has been hit badly by absence of support from the security forces in conservation and enforcement activities. Though two units of Special Operations Group are stationed at Nuwana and Gudgudia, they do not extend any service to the hapless Similipal officials leaving them vulnerable to attacks.
In February, an army of over 1,500 men had laid siege to the establishments demanding right to hunt wildlife inside the park.