The Supreme Court Friday expressed concern over attacks on forest rangers by armed poachers and smugglers, saying it may pass orders providing fire arms, bullet proof vests and helmets to the officials to ensure their safety. The bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde said the forest officials are up against the "bigger force and millions of dollars are being siphoned of by smuggling".
"ED (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 top court was hearing interim applications filed in a 25-year-old PIL of one T N Godavarman Thirumulpad. It took note of the submissions of senior advocate Shyam Divan that India accounts for 38 per cent of attacks on forest officials. The senior lawyer referred to cases of attack on rangers in forests of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
"Brutal attacks are made on forest rangers. Even counter cases are lodged against them," he said. "When we go to Assam, (we see) they are given arms while in Maharashtra they are given only 'lathi', " the bench said. The bench said it would pass order on the issue after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, Divan and lawyer A D N Rao make statements as to how these forest rangers can be be protected.
"We will direct that the officials are given arms, bullet proof vests and helmets. In Karnataka, forest officials are seen roaming in 'chappals' and are being slapped by poachers. We want Solicitor General to make statement on next date of hearing that arms will be given to personnel…," the bench observed at the outset.
The bench, in its order, recorded the submissions on attacks on forest rangers in different states and filing of false cases as counter blast to deter them from doing their duties. "It is difficult to comprehend as how forest officials are to be protected in vast tract of land where poachers take advantage to carry out the nefarious activities. It is difficult to manage how any law can be enforced by the forest officials who are unarmed in comparison to poachers who are heavily armed," it said. The bench adjourned the hearing by four weeks and said that it would pass orders after taking note of the statements of the lawyers concerned. During the hearing, it said forest officials cannot even call for help in distress in the forest when they are attacked by poachers.
Like in a city, police can call for help, there should be some mechanisms, it said. "We need to check all these crimes. Last month I was in a forest in Maharashtra and have seen that forest officials were not even armed. 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," the CJI observed. Divan pointed to cases lodged against forest officials and attacks in Rajasthan and Maharashtra, urging the bench to ask states to explain as to what has been done in such instances.
"We will pass some orders. Population may not be much but area is much bigger than any city and town. States have to tighten the home department," it said.