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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Armour suits to batons: Forest dept staff get protection in Delhi

A forest department official said instances of stone pelting and violence against staffers in the South division had become increasingly frequent when attempts were made to clear encroachments from forest land.

Written by Abhinaya Harigovind | New Delhi |
Updated: September 14, 2021 8:08:37 am
The Ridge comprises reserved forests, protected by law.

Much like the police, a small number of forest department officials are now equipped with anti-riot gear in Delhi. After protecting parts of the Ridge turned into a risky affair, with personal safety at stake, Forest Department officials of the South division have procured protective gear, including batons and armour suits, to stave off encroachers.

The Ridge comprises reserved forests, protected by law.

A forest department official said instances of stone pelting and violence against staffers in the South division had become increasingly frequent when attempts were made to clear encroachments from forest land.

“When forest department staff have attempted to remove encroachments, there have been instances of mobs building up. In the past, we have seen instances of stone pelting, besides staff having to deal with private guards and bouncers at such sites. Morale takes a hit in such cases. Anti-riot gear ensures basic protection and boosts their morale,” the official said.

Removing encroachments is a regular part of the job now, and it’s a continuous process — as older encroachments are removed, newer attempts at construction keep popping up, he said. Crude, tarpaulin covered structures are sometimes raised over a two-day holiday, he added.

In a recent response to a request made by lawyer Aditya Prasad under the RTI Act, the Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF), South division, furnished information on equipment purchased. The response indicates that helmets, shields, batons and half-body armour suits were received earlier this year.

The RTI response also shows that in a letter to the DCF, a Range Officer had requested protective gear citing possibility of fights while dealing with encroachments and instances of stone pelting against forest officials. The request was placed for Mehrauli Range I and II.

Prasad had written to the L-G earlier this year, pointing out the “lack of equipment, uniforms and security” of forest officials, which has a “direct and proportional effect on the protection of flora and fauna of Delhi”. “Due to lack of manpower, equipment and security, officers and staff are continuously harassed, and they face the brunt of threatening and violent acts,” the letter states.

In response to an RTI request that Prasad filed in 2019, the DCF, South, also provided three incident reports filed that year on instances of violence against range officers. In one such report, a range officer says that efforts to remove an encroachment from the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary had resulted in a large crowd gathering before his office to protest against him. He also claims he received threatening calls and messages.

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