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Forest Protection

  1. Background

    Growing demand of fuelwood and fodder is putting enormous pressure on the forest resources of the state. Of the total 52,731 villages in the state, 21,797 are located in the vicinity (within 5 km) of forest areas. Around 1 crore people are dependent on forests. A large population of the state cattle is dependent on forests.Around 20 lakhs cattle are estimated to be visiting the state from the neighbouring states of Rajasthan and Gujarat.
    Drain on the Forest
    Around 6 lakh people make their living through sale of fuel headload. The value of fuelwood removed through headloads is estimated to be Rs.250 crores. An area of 1.43 lakh ha. is under encroachments. Forest fires take a heavy toll of the natural regeneration and forest plantation.

  2. Administrative units

    Protection of forests is one of the primary responisibilities of the Forest Department. At the field level, the smallest administrative unit is called a Beat. A group of 4-5 beats constitutes a Range Assistant Circle. Three to four Range Assistant Circles form a Range. Two to three Ranges make a Sub-Division and two to three Sub-Divisions a Division. Table given below depicts the administrative unit, their average area and officers manning them.

    Administrative Units in Forest Department
    Units
    Total Number
    Average Forest Area (sq. km)
    Officer in-charge
    Division 63 1400 Divisional Forest Officer
    Sub-Division 129 738 Sub Divisional Officer
    Range 450 363 Range Officer
    RA Circle 1,354 70 Range Assistant
    Beat 7685 13 Beat Guard
     

    With respect to protection, a Beat Guard is resposible for regularly patrolling the beat and preventing any illegal act like felling of trees, poaching, encroachments, grazing, forest fires etc. or in case of occurence reporting it to his superiors through a Preliminary Offence Report (POR). In addition to protection of the forest, the Beat Guard is also responsible for various administrative, development, welfare functions in his area, which usually includes 3-4 villages.

    Although the beat guard is primarily responsible for patrolling his beat, his superior upto the DFO are also required to inspect the beat periodically according to a roaster decided by the Conservator. In addition to the territorial administrative units, the Department has a system of special flying squads to investigate specific complaints and to reinforce and assist these units whereever necessary. This squad is located at the office of the Conservator of Forests. Moreover, the Department also has three companies of Special Armed Forces (SAF) on deputation from the police department to lend necessary help in the areas sensitive to forest offences. The SAF is deployed in the form of section strength in different Forest DIvision

  3. Registration of offence and enquiry


    Cognisance of forest offences is taken under the following important Acts and various Rules framed under these Acts.
    • Indian Forest Act, 1927
    • Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972
    • Madhya Pradesh Tendu Patta (Vyapar Viniyaman) Adhiniyam, 1964
    • Madhya Pradesh Vanopaj (Vyapar Viniyaman), Adhiniyam, 1969
    • Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
    • Madhya Pradesh Kashtha Chiran Adhiniyam, 1984


    In addition to illegal felling, illegal possession and transport of most types of forest produce (timber and minor forest products), encroachments on forest land for any purpose, and setting forests to fire are offences under various laws. Forest Officers are vested with powers to enquire into offence cases, force attendance of witnesses, stop and search vehicles, arrest without warrant, issue search warrants, seize forest produce suspected to be illegally obtained,
    confiscate vehicles and other property used in the commission of forest offences, eviction of forest encroachers, and also, to compound cases under these laws. The provisions of other laws, such as Indian Penal Code also apply to forest offences but the forest officers are not empowered to take action under these laws. Police officers, however, derive the powers of registering & enquiring forest offences under the forest laws as well.

    On registration of an offence Range Assistant enquires into the POR issued by a Forest Guard and the enquiry report is submitted to the Range Officer. The latter, in consultation with his superiors, decides whether to prosecute an offender or to compound the case. As most of the forest offences individually are of minor nature, composition of offences, through the recovery of a composition fee, is by far the commonest method of disposal of forest offence cases.

 

4. Problems in forest protection

Forest protection is beset with myriad problems. For the forestry personnel, it is becoming increasingly difficult to combine the role of a policeman with that of a development agency. As a result of the phenomenal increase in welfare, development, production, commercial, administrative and co-ordination responsibilities, the time available for patrolling or field supervision has seriously declined over the years.

Therefore, it is difficult to hold the staff responsible for illicit felling even in cases of dereliction of duty. The worsening age profile of the cutting edge staff, as a result of a ban on direct recruitment of Forest Guards and Foresters, is another important reason for a serious decline in the effectiveness of the organization. More serious problems in forest protection are, however, external to the organization. The increase in the prices of timbers like teak, has forced the criminals to take much higher risks. The advent of activist organizations, which instigate people to encroach upon forest lands and fell trees, has made the government vulnerable to adverse publicity. As the people involved in forest offences are mostly tribals, any action against them is seen by the public as atrocities and the staff becomes vulnerable to vexatious litigation under the laws that protect the tribals against official high handedness.

5. Forest Fires:

Forest fires constitute a major threat to the forests as the forests of the state are mostly dry and deciduous and prone to forest fires in the summer season from February to June.

In India, nearly all of the forest fires are considered incendiary in their origin. Most of the man-caused fires are associated with the activities of mahua and sal seed collection and the desire to promote better grass growth after the rains. The fires caused by mahua collectors are the commonest in March and April and are the cause of wide spread fire damage to the forest growth.

Forest Fire

The role of fires in forest management is not well-recognized in India. While we continue to treat all fires as deleterious to forest health, the rest of the world appears to have accepted the concept of ‘prescribed fires’ and ‘diverse fire regimes’, in view of their role in promoting biodiversity and hardy timber species. While the adverse impact of forest fires on timber trees and their regeneration, in the short run, is not ruled out, but the overall role of fires in the functioning of the forest systems in India needs to be reevaluated. The most important practical factor to be kept in mind is that it is impossible to keep fires out of the forests forever; more so in the tropical dry deciduous forests. The longer the interval between two successive fires, more is the damage due to the higher fuel build up.

Therefore, it is essential that we have a proper fire policy and guidelines as to which fires to fight and which fires to promote. In any case, seeing pictures of forests burning, on television, is no reason for alarm as ground fires are a perennial feature of our systems and most of the species adorning our forests may owe their existence to these very fires. All the fires in Madhya Pradesh are ground fires and burn only the ground flora, although standing trees may be injured and fallen trees may be burnt. As most of the forest species have evolved in the presence of fires, their regeneration (seedlings) have the capacity to revive after repeated fires, although some mortality is not ruled out, which may itself be good.

As far as fire protection is concerned, like all other Indian states, the forest department follows the policy of total protection, although it is an impossible goal. Many factors militate against the achievement of this goal. Although setting fire to forests, even leaving fires burning near a forest, is an offence, millions of people use fire to clean the floor under the mahua trees to aid in the picking of sweet calyx that falls to the ground.

Many communities use fires to promote a better flush of tendu leaves which, along with mahua, constitutes a major source of earning and sustenance for them. The fires so started, go out of control, and burn small but numerous patches in the forests around villages.

It is nearly impossible to record all these ‘offences’ and treat the entire population as criminal. Moreover, the fire season coincides with the busiest work season for the forest staff, in the form of tendu leaves collection operations and preparation for plantations. As these offences do not carry the same significance as illicit felling of trees or poaching, their record keeping has not been taken seriously. However, there is a need to keep records of all fires for ecological reasons, not just to keep track of offences. The national parks and sanctuaries, especially the well-known ones have a much better record of fires occurring there than the rest of the forest divisions.

The Forest Department manages the forest fires through ‘prevention’ as well as ‘fighting’. Fire prevention is done through a system of fire lines which criss-cross the forest. In addition to the specially cut fire lines, all roads passing through the forest are treated as fire lines. These lines are cut and burnt before the fire season commences on 16 February each year. There are nearly 2,60,000 km of artificial fire lines and 30,000 km of forest and other roads acting as fire line. During the fire season, the forest staff along with the specially employed labour, called the fire watchers, patrols their area, scouting for fire or smoke. The number of fire watchers employed is approximately one per beat (above 7000) and some additional force to look after special areas such as plantations etc. Once a fire is detected it is quenched, using traditional methods, such as beating, cutting off and starting counter fires. Fire beating is done with the help of green leafy twigs, mainly from the plash and tendu bushes. Only recently proper fire beaters (swats) and rakes have been introduced in some divisions, mainly national parks.

All forest dwellers are required to help in fighting forest fires, as per the Indian Forest Act, 1927. Since the advent of JFM in the state, the participation of the people in fighting and preventing forest fires has got a boost. Since 2000-2001, JFM committees have been given the responsibility for fire tracing and fighting and most of the money available with the department is transferred to their accounts. They spend whatever is needed and rest goes to meet their community needs for development etc

Although fires have been partly blamed for the poor yields in our forests, perhaps erroneously, their prevention and control has suffered from lack of resources. Until, 1999-2000, the annual budget, for the entire state was approximately Rs.3.5 Crores which was far below the requirement. However since 2000-2001, the allocation has received a quantum jump and is now Rs. 11.00 crores per year. This has brought a vast improvement to the fire scene in the state.



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