BHUBANESWAR: Days after the state government approved a proposal to provide immunity to forest officials under section 197 of the CrPC for the use of firearms, Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) has launched an exercise to equip its frontline field staff with weapons to deal effectively with poachers and wildlife criminals in the protected area.
Officials said STR has withdrawn guns and rifles issued to some of the field staff engaged in patrolling. “The weapons will be checked to see if they need to be replaced. A reassessment of total number of weapons required for frontline staff will be made and the requisition sent to the Forest department for appropriate measures,” said Similipal field director and Baripada RCCF Prakash Chand Gogineni.
The weapons, however, will be issued only to those who are found fit to use them. Appropriate training will also be imparted to the armed staff. The field director said steps will also be initiated to train the Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF), a dedicated force engaged in Similipal to protect its flora and fauna. Though STPF had been formed to counter armed poachers and strengthen protection measures in Similipal, sources said, it was never used as a sophisticated force nor given any proper training to remain prepared for such operations.
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“This was one of the biggest lacunae of Similipal that emboldened poachers who have been attacking patrolling staff and also killed a forest guard and a ranger in charge,” said a senior official from the Forest department. Against 81 sanctioned posts of STPF personnel, Similipal has around 50 men in position, who mostly accompany forest staff in patrolling. The field director said proper training will be imparted to such personnel, engaged at the forest guard level, and the STPF will be used as a force henceforth.