Hyderabad: India reported the highest number of deaths of forest range officers, especially the frontline staff. In 2017, 29 rangers were killed on duty in India; most officers were eliminated by poachers, smugglers and land encroachers, says the International Ranger Federation’s roll of honour reports. A total of 162 murders of officers were reported between 2012 and 2017. Most officers were eliminated because they protected the green cover, wetland and other nature launch pads.
September 11 was observed as Forest Martyrs day. However, except for remembering the dead, the state has no plan to protect its forest staff members who continue to work with age-old weapons.
Worldwide, 526 rangers were killed, of which India accounted for nearly 31 per cent (162 of 526) ranger deaths.
In 2016, two forest range officials on duty were axed to death in Guntur. In August this year, a staffer was made to touch the feet of an MLC for disturbing a party held in the forest camps in Kurnool.
Nizamabad in 2013 witnessed the brutal killing of a ranger. A group of tribals who had allegedly encroached on forest land hacked a forest ranger to death at KK Thanda, a village in Nizamabad. The officer was attacked when he tried to arrest the encroachers.
In 2011, a ghastly road accident claimed the lives of three employees of the Nirmal Forest division . The deceased was Thota Narsaiah, 52, a Superintendent in the DFO office, who was also the president of the Nirmal unit of Telangana Non-Gazetted Officers (TNGO) Union. The jeep in which the three employees were travelling hit a pedestrian divider on a culvert on the NH 7 before turning turtle near Medipalli in Nirmal mandal.
In the same year, M. Srinivasulu, 45, a forest beat officer, at Panuguru near Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh was killed when he stumbled upon smugglers.
A senior officer with the state forest department (did not want to be quoted) explained, “The clashes are on the rise on account of greater vigil by forest authorities in recent years. However the department is hamstrung by inadequate numbers of able staff and the testing terrain they have to traverse to protect the forest. The average age of the staff who maintain vigil is more than 50 and the beat each one has to cover is more than 100 sq km. Forest authorities are trying to make amends by hiring locals, with funds available for social forestry programmes and forest protection, as foot patrol to operate from 75 base camps in the Red Sanders area,” he said.