Odisha forest staff get immunity to use firearms
The New Indian Express, in a series of articles, had highlighted the need for the legal immunity to the forest field staff.
BHUBANESWAR: Equipping frontline staff with a much-needed self-defence cover against poachers and wildlife criminals, the Odisha government on Wednesday granted immunity to forest personnel under section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) which authorises the use of firearms during official duties. The move will now give the forest field staff protection from arrest and criminal proceedings, unless a magisterial investigation finds the use of firearms was unnecessary, unwarranted and excessive.
This significant move makes Odisha the fourth state to implement the measure after Assam, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Use of firearms on duty may expose forest personnel to vexatious criminal proceedings for which they need to be provided protection from prosecution without prior sanction. Accordingly, the state government has decided to grant protection to forest officials under section 197 (2) of the CrPC, stated the Forest, Environment and Climate Change department in its notification.
The New Indian Express, in a series of articles, had highlighted the need for legal immunity to the forest field staff. A high-level team of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), that visited Similipal after armed poachers gunned down two forest officials recently, also recommended the measure to the state government to enhance the protection of the field staff in the tiger reserve and other sensitive forest areas of the state.
The notification stated protection under the section will be provided to staff including forest guards, foresters, deputy rangers, rangers, ACFs and other higher-ranked officials as well as those engaged in the maintenance of public order relating to forest and wildlife protection and conservation.
“If firing is resorted to by any of the forest personnel provided immunity under the section, it will be inquired into by an executive magistrate of the locality. Arrest or proceedings in such matters will be initiated only if it is held in the magisterial inquiry that the use of firearms has been unnecessary, unwarranted or excessive and that such magisterial inquiry report has been accepted by the government,” a senior forest official from the department said.
Forest officials said the move will significantly help improve the security of patrolling staff in sensitive forests, especially in Similipal and Athagarh-Narasinghpur where armed poachers often target frontline staff.