Odisha Govt okays firing in self-defence by forest personnel; association doubts efficacy

Bhubaneswar/Similipal: Odisha Government today accorded permission to forest personnel to use firearms for their self-defence while on duty, against hunters, poachers and wood mafia.

While the non-gazetted forest services association in the State welcomed the timely step, it doubted its effectiveness saying that it is meaningless sans the availability of modern firearms for use.

The permission was granted following the recent killing of two on-duty personnel in Similipal forest.

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A notification issued, on Monday, by the Forest, Environment and Climate Change (FE&CC) department in this regard mentioned, “The provisions contained under sub-Section-(2) of Section 197 of CrPC shall apply to all the Forest Guards, Foresters, Deputy Forest Range Officers, Forest Range Officers, Assistant Conservators of Forests, Sub-Divisional Forest Officers, Deputy Conservators of Forests, Deputy Directors, Divisional Forest Officers, Regional Chief Conservators of Forests, Field Directors and any other forest officer in the State who are charged with the maintenance of public order relating to forest and wildlife protection, conservation and management.”

“Whenever firing is resorted to by the forest personnel mentioned in the Clause (A) above, each such incident shall be enquired into by an Executive Magistrate of the locality; and any proceedings including institution of a criminal case of any nature and/or effecting an arrest shall be initiated by the Police, only if it is held, as a result of the Magisterial Enquiry that the use of firearms has been unnecessary, unwarranted and excessive and further that such Magisterial Enquiry report has been accepted by the State Government,” the FE&CC notification further said.

“We are happy with the State government decision but it may not serve the purpose sans modern firearms and ammunition in adequate numbers. We will continue cease work stir and also stage dharna at Lower PMG in Bhubaneswar from July 10, if our 5-point charter of demands is not met soon,” the non-gazetted employees’ outfit president Khageswar Sethi warned.

Echoing a similar view, the association secretary Bikash Kumar Bhujabal said, “There are about 400 field staff engaged in patrolling in forests but there are only 53 firearms at their disposal.”

The govt took the decision keeping in mind the vulnerability of forest land, forest-based resources as well as wildlife in protected and reserved forest areas of the State mounting to threats on their conservation, protection and existence. Forest personnel of the State will now be armed with firearms.

Use of firearms while discharging mandated duties and responsibilities of the forest personnel may expose them to vexatious criminal proceedings. Hence, there is a need to provide them with immunity from prosecution without prior sanction, the official communiqué clarified.

Notably, the permission was accorded in exercise of the powers conferred by sub-Section-(3) of Section 197 of the CrPC, 1973 (2 of 1974) and all other powers enabling it on that behalf.

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