COIMBATORE: Though the forest staff are at present under huge pressure to prevent the possible infiltration of Naxals, they have not been reportedly adequately trained or equipped to handle such operations. Psychologically too, they are not in a position to take on the left-wing extremists, who are armed with sophisticated weapons.
Except for rangers, who are armed with pistols, none of the officials carry weapons. Even if they do, they are mostly outdated. With a few sticks and crackers that they carry, they can at the most, scare away wild animals alone.
In this scenario, while confronting Naxals they are likely to become sitting ducks as they possess only a few weapons and that too ones like 7.62 rifle, .315 rifle, 410 muscat, .303 rifle, and double barrels, which are 20 to 50 years old. Recently, forest rangers are given Glock12 pistol.
Retired Forest Conservator, S K Shanmugha Sundaram, said that it was high time the forest staff were made to rise to the occasion. “They are certainly not prepared and during crises, there are bound to be more causalities. There is no periodical weapon training, nor are the weapons periodically changed. As a result, they are equipped properly to handle such missions,” he said.
The department is short staffed and the average age of officials is 50 years.
What is more disconcerting is that the existing staff are already burdened with a lot of works and are not prepared for major encounters, said a senior forest official.
They have the expertise to deal only with man-animal conflicts, poachers, timber mafia and forestation works. The only way to augment their capability is to increase the staff strength periodically and train them in handling latest weapons and exposing them to warfare techniques, he added.
Environmentalist K Mohan Raj, said the forest department staff are well acquainted with the forest and know the terrain better than the STF. Therefore, equipping them better and training them will help a lot. Besides, gathering intelligence on a real-time basis too will prove beneficial, he opined.