Staff Reporter

BANGALORE: The Forest Department has asked Chief Electoral Officer M.N. Vidyashankar to exempt the department staff and vehicles in National Parks and Wildlife sanctuaries from election duty.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests A.K. Verma said use of the already depleted staff and vehicles would affect forest security. “We brought this to the notice of Mr. Vidyashankar on Monday. He assured us that the forest department and vehicles will be used only in cases of emergency,” Mr. Verma told The Hindu on Tuesday.

Mr. Verma said a few weeks ago the department submitted to the Election Commission the list of forest guards and Range Forest Officers. A few Deputy Commissioners have written to the District Forest Officers concerned to provide the department’s vehicles for election duty.

The action of Forest Department follows a few days after Praveen Bhargav, the Managing Trustee of Wildlife First and a member of National Board for Wildlife, raised concerns about the use of forest staff and its vehicles for election duty.

In his letter to Mr. Vidyashankar, Mr. Bhargav said tigers and other endangered species were facing serious threat from poaching by organised gangs. Further, the department is facing severe shortage of protection staff and any withdrawal of staff and/or patrolling vehicles would weaken the already stretched protection infrastructure and deplete field formations. Mr. Bhargav pointed out that a 1998 order of the Election Commission of India exempted vehicles and staff of National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries across the country from election duty. He asked Mr. Vidyashankar to issue necessary instructions to exempt vehicles and staff of National Parks, Sanctuaries and Tiger Reserves from being requisitioned for election duties. Mr. Bhargav told The Hindu that the forest department’s vehicles were already being taken away from Nagarahole National Park, Bhadra Tiger Reserve and Anshi Tiger Reserve.