Staff shortage hits wildlife, forest protection in Andhra Pradesh
Deccan Chronicle.| Sampat G Samritan
Andhra Pradesh forest department faces a shortage of field staff ranging from 30 to 50 per cent
Given the rapid growth in urbanization, there is more stress on forest lands to encroach upon while some migrant labourers are already resorting to felling of trees and setting up of settlements. (Representational Photo: AP forest department)
Vijayawada: The Andhra Pradesh forest department faces a shortage of field staff ranging from 30 to 50 per cent, division-wise, affecting the cause of protection of forests and their wealth, including wildlife.
Given the rapid growth in urbanization, there is more stress on forest lands to encroach upon while some migrant labourers are already resorting to felling of trees and setting up of settlements.
Foresters are supposed to curb such encroachments and provide protection to the forests and ensure their proper maintenance as also keep a tab on poaching of wildlife.
The forest department is facing an acute shortage of field staff like assistant forest beat officer, forest beat officer, forest section officer and forest ranger officers.
A forest beat officer is to take care of an average 3,000 to 6,000 hectares of forest area while the forest section officer would look after nearly 15,000 to 30,000 hectares and the forest ranger nearly 25,000 to 40,000 hectares.
With the posts of field staff lying vacant for a long time, the existing officers have to take care of the responsibility of the vacant posts, which in turn results in more forest land being put under their control for protection. This is resulting in a lack of vigil on forest lands and causing loss of precious forest wealth by means of smuggling of trees like red sanders and poaching of wild animals.
Though the forest authorities claim credit for the fall in the number of cases being booked on the loss of forest wealth and poaching of wild animals, lack of adequate manpower results also in a lack of proper detection and booking of cases.
Highly placed sources say that though the top-level posts are filled to capacity, several forest divisions of various wings, including those like Sullurpeta, Rajampet, Srikakulam and Vijayawada are being run with in-charge DFOs; and no regular training is being provided to the existing staff.
The AP forest academy located in Rajamahendravaram is being headed by a retired IFS officer for a long time as if no regular officer is available. They say that some of the existing staff complain of health issues and avoid work.
The sources allege that when AP got 13 new districts by restricting the existing ones, taking the total to 26 and every department appointed officers, the forest department is yet to appoint officers in the newly formed districts.
Though the department has taken up recruitment of field staff etc in 2021, there is less relief, given the large number of vacancies upto forest range officer level. The new batch of FROs is likely to assume charge after completion of training.
Moreover, the authorities are planning to reorganise the forest beats, co-terminus with the newly restructured districts, to have some uniformity in the area to be covered by the officers for protection. As of now, there is no uniformity in the size of areas for beat at present.
A forest officer said, "Lack of adequate field staff is having its impact on activities like maintenance, plantation and protection of forests and also in curbing the smuggling of wood and poaching of wild animals. It is time the state government stepped in to strengthen the department by taking up recruitment of field staff to protect forests and their wealth in the state."