The security of the 600-acre reserved forest land on the Taljai hill, a favourite destination of hundreds of people who go there for their morning and evening walks, is caught in redtape of the Urban Joint Forest Management (JFM) programme. The vast tract of the biodiversity-rich land, regularly infested by anti-social elements from the surrounding areas, has only four forest guards to keep a 24-hour vigil.
Till March end, as many as 15 security guards who were deployed under the JFM programme were deployed in the area. Deputy Conservator of Forest Rajendra Kadam said: “The Pune Municipal Corporation, which was contributing to the funds, raised an objection that a significant amount of the funds meant for development work was being used for payment to the security guards. And so the security guards appointed by the PMC were taken off duty. The number of guards required here are much more than any standard forest area, as the limits are attached to urban areas here.”
The JFM committee was established sometime in 2009, as the forest department with its limited resources was not able to maintain the forest areas in urban limits. The JFM project, which has participation of the PMC, the forest department and local stakeholders, was then approved.
A forest department staffer said: “A lot of miscreants come into the forest land in the evening. They consume alcohol, play cards and light fire at night. If we stop them, they argue with us and attack us. There is always a danger of this fire spreading. Recently, a staffer here was hit on the head by some goons from the Janata Vasahat slum area. No police complaint was registered.”
Another forest guard said: “Many people from the nearby areas come here and cut trees for firewood. We cannot deny if they are poaching the peacocks and rabbits found in this area. There are only two guards for the day and two for the night. When one of them has a weekly off, only one person guards the 600 acres. Out of the 13-km boundary, only a 4-km stretch has a protective wall. It’s
a very scary situation. The hill has a boundary, which come under the jurisdiction of four police stations. Police never listen to us saying it’s a matter of the forest department.”
Shrikant Hazare, a regular visitor to the hill, said: “There have been several cases of miscreants troubling citizens. Chain snatching and robberies are common.”
Prabhakar Kukdolkar, a former forest department officer and wildlife expert, said: “The shortage of security guards has always been a problem for forest departments everywhere.”
Municipal Commissioner Vikas Deshmukh, who was on a routine visit to the area when the Newsline team visited Taljai, said: “I have had a discussion on the issue with forest department officials. After objection to the use of funds was raised, the security was withdrawn. We will work on a solution and funds will be given to the forest department.”
Kadam, however, said: “Even if we get funds from the PMC, the issue pertaining to its use for security still remains unsolved. We also plan to use this money for construction of the protective wall.”
With PAVAN KHENGRE