Wildlife First, an NGO advocating conservation issues for nearly two decades, has sought exemption for Forest Department staff from being deployed for poll duty.

It had sought a similar provision during last year’s Assembly polls, and received the Chief Electoral Officer’s (CEO) nod.

Praveen Bhargav, managing trustee of Wildlife First, told The Hindu that the NGO hoped the Chief Electoral Officer would respond to the situation and exempt staff and vehicles in Protected Areas from election duty during the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls, which also happens to be during ‘fire season’.

Underlining the imperatives of this move, the NGO argued that tigers and other endangered species were under constant threat of being poached; forests and national parks had to be patrolled continuously to prevent this. By deploying anti-poaching camp personnel and other forest staff, or utilising patrol vehicles for election duties, would weaken protection measures and make the animals vulnerable.

Mr. Bhargav also drew attention to a letter dated March 9, 2009, by the Election Commission of India addressed to all CEOs and Chief Secretaries. The letter stated that vehicles and staff deployed in wildlife sanctuaries, national game parks and similar areas in States should not be requisitioned for election duty; they were to be exempted, to protect India’s diminishing wildlife value.

The communiqué also stated that the instructions were to be treated as “standing instructions of the commission”, applicable to all future elections.

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