Tiger poachers under fire!

Sanjeev Shivadekar, TNN MUMBAI/NAGPUR| May 23, 2012

Maharashtra forest minister Patangrao Kadam has asked forest guards to ‘shoot at sight’ if they see any poacher hunting or laying traps in tiger reserves.

However, this is not new as these orders are in place since 2002 when the department first decided to arm its staffers basically for self-protection. It is the field staff that is reluctant to use weapons as there was still ambiguity in protocol. “Granting immunity vide a GR doesn’t stand in the court of law. Even if we fire to perform our duty, we’ll have to stand trial. Court interpretations keep on changing where the GR will not prevail,” said range forest officers (RFOs) who asked not to be quoted.

Selected forest guards and foresters have been given pistols but they too don’t use them. “There have been cases of forest guards being booked for violating human rights. However, to save tiger, the department has informed the guards that preventive shooting will not be treated as criminal offence. The action of guards will not be considered a crime. The legal provision has been made to protect these guards,” Kadam said on Tuesday.

The fresh orders came following a spurt in poaching of tigers around the protected areas (PAs), specially after intelligence input that Baheliya poachers from Katni in Madhya Pradesh have been given a contract to procure 25 tigers from Maharashtra which basically means Vidarbha.

Another factor is lack of training in use of weapons. Of the total 11,000 employees of department, till date no more than 1,000 field staffers have been trained in using weapons. They too do not get to regularly practice. Officials said not all employees need to be given arms’ training. “We have prioritized it. Weapons and training will be given to staff posted in highly sensitive and vulnerable bordering areas and now in tiger sensitive areas,” they said.