Timber soldiers

Published: Saturday 15 November 2008

Timber soldiers

Uniform approach
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IFS at the mercy of IAS officers

Frontline staff--forest guards and foresters--is recruited by the state governments only and trained for six months at state training colleges. Recruitment has been irregular, depending on money. "In 2006, some 600 new forest guards were recruited after a gap of about three years in our state. After no recruitment for years, now suddenly there is a huge influx," said Gulab S Verma, divisional forest officer who heads the forest training college at Chail in Himachal Pradesh.

Jharkhand is in a worse spot. "The last recruitment of guards was in 1985 when the state was a part of Bihar. 2,500 posts are vacant in the state. This is out of a total required cadre strength of 4,200," said A K Malhotra, pccf in charge of human resource development in Jharkhand.

This impacts training. Jharkhand has four training colleges for frontline staff, but two are closed.The remaining two are conducting induction courses for guards who joined several years ago. In Madhya Pradesh, untrained recruits have been given posts and are learning on the job.

Since recruitment is abrupt and in large batches, promotion by seniority becomes a difficult task. "I joined as a forest guard in 1972. I got promoted to a forester in 2002. With less than a year before retirement, my chances of further promotion are nil," said Ramakant Misra of Kanha National Park.

State or Centre?
Both the Centre and the states recruit forest officers. Those recruited by the Centre get appointed as assistant conservators and those recruited by states are appointed range officers. Technically, the state service officers are eligible for promotion into the ifs as assistant conservators. But this rarely happens.

ifs officers too talk of stagnation. Though an assistant conservator of forests is eligible for promotion to deputy conservator after three years of service, this rarely happens. The next promotion to a conservator ought to come after 14 years of service, and the one after that, from conservator to chief conservator, after 18 years. After 28 years of service, an officer is eligible for pccf. But this rarely happens. Actually, it takes 18 years for an officer to become a conservator and 25 years to become a chief conservator. "By this time the officer has reached the end of his career. So instead of retiring as a pccf, he retires as a ccf," said Prasad of the ifs association.

The association blamed the ias officers of the Union Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, which controls the service rules for the three all-India services and can overrule the environment and forests ministry, which is headed by the secretary of forests--an ias officer. It said ias officers get promoted faster than ifs officers of the same rank.

In 2001, the ministry of personnel issued a circular calling for austerity measures in recruitment. "They said each year, recruitment should drop 10 per cent for five years. But in 2006, this reduction was extended indefinitely," said Savita, head of Uttarakhand's forest service college in Dehradun. Mukherjee said this is the ias's way of controlling ifs.

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