`Forest guards have powers, but no weapons`

  • 30/05/1993

Why has park protection become so difficult?
The government has banned villagers from entering the forest but without giving them an alternative. When they force their way in, claiming it is their right, we are authorised to stop them. But how effective are such powers without weapons? We can arrest anyone who enters the park illegally, but can a lone forest guard with only a baton stop a mob of unruly villagers?

What happens when you try to stop the villagers?
We get bashed up. Not a week passes without one of us being assaulted and somebody's arms or legs broken. Recently, a fight broke out in a nearby village when we tried to stop the villagers from cutting down trees. One guard was hit on the leg with an axe, another was badly beaten and his wireless set was snatched. We got no help from either our bosses or the police.

Do you get any support or help from the authorities?
They don't encourage us to go to them with our problems. It is easy to make harsh laws sitting in plush offices. Just ask them to confront the villagers at least once.

What is your reaction to criticism that forest guards have failed to check poaching?
Haven't you heard how our colleagues were butchered recently by poachers in Keladevi forest? Last year, too, a forester was murdered and his body thrown on some railway tracks, merely because he had spotted some poachers. Five men have lost their lives in Ranthambore so far and nothing has been done to provide security to us.

How do you think your problems will be solved? What are your demands?
Give us the same status and benefits as the police. Strengthen our powers so we can use weapons. Give us equipment and transport to patrol the park and provide us with basic amenities, such as drinking water. How do you expect a forest guard to patrol the park when half the day is spent fetching drinking water?

Unless these minimum conditions are met, forest guards cannot protect the forest or the animals.

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