More than 250 employees of the state forest department posted in and around Gir forest went on leave en masse on Thursday in protest of suspension of two officers of Talala range. The protesting employees claimed the suspensions were unjustified and should be revoked therefore.
Beat guards, foresters and some range forest officers (RFOs) of Gir (east), Gir (west), Sasan wildlife division, Junagadh forest division, Porbandar forest divison etc went on leave for one day on Thursday. The employees assembled outside the office of chief conservator of forests (CCF) of Junagadh wildlife circle in Junagadh and sat on dharna throughout the day. Later in the evening, their representatives met the CCF and demanded that suspension of Talala RFO PT Kaneriya and Talala forester Manu Bharwad be revoked.
“The Talala RFO and forester were merely exercising power conferred on them by the Forest (Conservation) Act while arresting a man who had entered the forest area illegally. They cannot be suspended for discharging their duties. Therefore, we feel the suspension is unreasonable and should be revoked. Let there be a departmental inquiry and let police also conduct an impartial investigation in the matter,” Mahavirsinh Sodha, vice president of Gujarat Rajya Vanrakshak Karmachari Mandal (GRVKM) or Gujarat state forest employees association told The Indian Express.
Kaneriya and Bharwad were suspended on Tuesday after Talal police booked them for allegedly confining one Bharat Patel unlawfully and also robbing him of Rs50,000 cash. Officers of Talala range in Gir (west) forest division had arrested Patel, a farmer of Hadmatiya village in Talala taluka of Gir Somnath district fore allegedly entering forest area without permission on April 29. However, after he was released, Patel consumed poison and attempted suicide alleging harassment from forest officers. Based on a complaint filed by Patel’s brother, Talal police had booked Kaneriya, Bharwad, a bit guard and a lion tracker for robbery, unlawful confinement and criminal intimidation. After the Talala police launched the FIR, Kaneriya and Bharwad were suspended the same day for indefinite period and transferred with immediate effect.
“We all employees of the forest department are against the suspension and to convey this to higher authorities, more than 250 of us are mass eave for a day” Sodha said. The GRVKM vice-president further said that their protest will continue of the the suspensions were not revoked soon.
Gir forest and other protected areas in Junagadh, Gir Somnathm, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts are the only natural habitat in the world of the endangered Asiatic lions. Population of the Jungle King has been on the rise for the last four decades and lion conservation in Gujarat is widely accepted as a global success story. Top forest officers give forest employees and local population the credit for the success.
This is second major protest this month by those working in and around Gir forest this. Lion trackers had gone on an indefinite strike on 5th of this month in protest of outsourcing their work. In the face of their strike, Gujarat State Lion Conservation Society had postponed its decision of outsourcing indefinitely.