The police will constitute forest vigilance committees, comprising forest dwellers and wildlife enforcers, to prevent criminals and radical elements from exploiting the cover of the State's vast jungles for their illegal activities, Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said here on Wednesday.

He was inaugurating the newly constructed housing units for the families of Special Armed Battalion policemen at Peroorkada here.

The State has a forest cover of 11,125.59 sq km, which is 28.9 per cent of its total land area. Much of the forests are spread over the Western Ghats, one of the 18 biodiversity hotspots in the world and home to endemic and endangered flora and fauna.

Mr. Balakrishnan's announcement comes in the wake of reports that Left extremists have pockets of influence among tribal communities in certain far flung forested areas of the State.

A home-grown religious fundamentalist group, suspected to be responsible for the attempt to smuggle its cadres to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir for military training, had held a basic training and recruitment camp under the cover of adventure tourism in the Wagamon forests in Kottayam district in 2008 and 2009.

Officials said there had also been instances of poaching, including the killing of elephants for their tusks and tigers for their pelt, in the State. Some remote woodland areas were used for ganja cultivation.

There were also groups of local poachers profiting from the sale of wild meat. Law enforcers were also concerned about the organised encroachment on protected forest areas and tribal lands.

The proposed forest vigilance committees would help law enforcers monitor the jungles better. The police would chiefly rely for information on the tribal people who traversed jungles regularly to collect forest produce and also those who volunteered as local guides for trekkers.

The police would give select vigilance committee members basic training in intelligence gathering and also give them mobile telephones and other incentives, an official said.

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