Noting that rangers and other personnel guarding the country’s vast forests are not adequately equipped to take on heavily-armed poachers, the Supreme Court on Friday asked the Centre and states to come up with suggestions to address the problem.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India S A Bobde also pointed to the need for a separate wildlife division of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to deal with proceeds of crimes committed against environment and wildlife.
“Enforcement Directorate should be roped in. It should have a separate wildlife wing. These are all proceeds of crime,” said the bench, which also comprised Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.
The bench was hearing an application filed by forest officials from Rajasthan challenging the prosecution launched against them. Senior advocate Shyam Diwan who appeared for the officials said his clients were being targeted as they took action against poachers. He referred to cases of attacks on rangers in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra and said “brutal attacks are made on forest rangers” and “counter cases are lodged against them”. Diwan added that those guarding the forests need to be protected against such attempts.
The CJI then wondered why forest guards in Assam have firearms but those in other states have only lathis (sticks). Advocate ADN Rao, who is the Amicus Curiae in the environment related matter in which the application was filed, said states were not utilising the funds given to them properly.
To which, CJI Bobde said the court is tentatively thinking of ensuring that states buy bullet proof vests and helmets for forest personnel and also firearms for officers above a certain rank
He rued that in some states, forest officers move around in chappals and lathis only to be pushed around by poachers.
“In Assam, no one dares to come near them as they are armed but in Maharashrata they are only provided lathis”, the CJI remarked adding that a forest ranger is in a situation where he cannot call for help unlike a policeman in a city. “No one to help him in a forest”.
“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 next date of hearing that arms will be given to personnel…” the bench said.
Seeking suggestions from the Centre, the Amicus Curiae and others, the court said it will pass orders in this regard after it gets responses.
The bench said it is “difficult to comprehend how forest officials will be in a position to protect the forests which are normally vast tracts of uninhabited land and of which poachers undue advantage for carrying out their nefarious activities. It is difficult to imagine how any law can be enforced by the forest staff who are unarmed against poachers who are likely to be heavily armed”.
The CJI added “we need to check all these crimes….How will they protect themselves when they are attacked! SG, we want you to explore all possibilities. These are sophisticated crimes which needs to be checked”.