New Delhi, Jan 8 (IANS) Expressing serious concern over brutal attack by poachers on unarmed forest officials, the Supreme Court on Friday asked the state governments to follow the Assam model and provide firearms and bulletproof jackets to forest guards.
Pointing out that the situation was “serious”, a bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde and comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, cited the example of a particular state and said that it was “extremely distressing” to see forest officials wearing slippers and armed with sticks put on duty to protect large tracts of forest land and flora and fauna.
“It is difficult to imagine how any law can be enforced by the forest officers and staff who are poorly armed against poachers, who are likely to be heavily armed,” the bench observed.
“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,” the CJI remarked.
“We find it difficult to comprehend how these forest officers and staff would be in a position to protect the environment and forests that are normally vast tracts of uninhabited land, of which poachers take undue advantage to carry out their nefarious activities,” the top court said in its order.
The apex court’s observations came during the hearing of an application for stay on all proceedings against forest officers and staff concerned vis-a-vis an FIR registered under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act on May 23, 2020, at the Mount Abu police station in Rajasthan.
The top court stayed the proceedings as an interim relief and scheduled the matter for hearing after four weeks.
Earlier, during the hearing, the Chief Justice recalled that pangolin scales were seized by forest officials in the past, adding that these were in great demand in China. The poachers operate as part of an illegal international trade in wildlife, running into millions of dollars.
“When powerful organised gangs are behind it, one must arm the forest officials and, if possible, open a Wildlife Wing in the Enforcement Directorate to deal exclusively with illegal trade in wildlife involving millions of dollars,” the CJI said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta agreed with the court’s suggestion and submitted that the central government would explore such possibility.
Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for a petitioner, pointed out the dangers and helplessness to which the forest officers and other staff were subjected to in the course of protecting flora and fauna.
Divan pointed out that forest officers faced counter-blast in the form of FIRs to prosecute them in return for some or the other action they took in the course of their duty.