Supreme Courtroom involved over assaults on forest rangers

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 8 

Expressing serious concern over attacks on forest rangers by armed poachers and smugglers, the Supreme Court on Friday indicated that it may pass orders providing firearms, bulletproof vests and helmets to them to ensure their safety.

“The forest officials are up against a bigger force and millions of dollars are being siphoned off by smuggling…ED (Enforcement Directorate) should be roped in. It should have a separate wildlife wing. These are all proceeds of crime,” a Bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said while hearing certain applications filed in a 25-year-old PIL on environment and forests related issues.

Referring to attacks on forest rangers in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, senior advocate Shyam Divan said, “Brutal attacks are made on forest rangers. Even counter cases are lodged against them… India accounts for 38 percent of attacks on forest officials.”

“It is difficult to comprehend how forest officials are to be protected in vast tracts of land where poachers take advantage to carry out the nefarious activities. It is difficult to manage how any law can be enforced by the forest officials who are unarmed in comparison to poachers who are heavily armed,” the Bench said, adding such crimes needed to be checked.

Agreeing with Divan, the CJI said, “When we go to Assam, (we see) they are given arms while in Maharashtra they are given only ”lathi.”

“We will direct that the officials are given arms, bullet proof vests and helmets. In Karnataka, forest officials are seen roaming in ”chappals” and are being slapped by poachers. We want the Solicitor General to make a statement on the next date of hearing that arms will be given to personnel…,” it said, posting the matter for hearing after four weeks.

The Bench indicated that it would pass order on the issue after hearing submissions from Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, Divan and advocate ADN Rao on measures to ensure safety of forest rangers.

Noting that forest officials can’t even call for help in distress when attacked by poachers, the Bench said there should be some mechanisms for it.

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