P. Oppili

Officer seeks Rs.10-lakh annual allocation for buying ammunition

CHENNAI: For over a decade, field staff of the Forest Department have been carrying rifles without ammunition when they venture into interior and inaccessible areas.

According to a senior wildlife official, in 2000, the State Forest Department acquired second-hand .303 rifles from the Army and the Border Security Force. After re-boring, the weapons were handed over to the State Forest Department.

At that time, no ammunition was sourced for these weapons. As an ad hoc measure, the department got 1,000 rounds of live ammunition from the Special Task Force (STF), which was handling the Veerappan operation. The ammunition was meant for select 100 rifles at the rate of 10 live rounds per weapon.

For a State, which has a forest cover of 22,877 sq. km., the Forest Department has in its possession only 300 rifles, that too without ammunition. The ammunition has an effective life of two years, so even those acquired from the STF cannot be of much use now.

After the ammunition expires, it has to be discarded and fresh stocks need to be acquired, the official said.

Again, Forest Guards carrying rifles while going into the interior areas had not been trained adequately in handling the weapons. Another official pointed out that wherever there was a vacancy for the post of Forest Guard, the weapons were being carried by Forest Watchers without ammunition. The State government should annually allocate Rs.10 lakh for buying ammunition, which would help in improving the protection work as well as providing protection for the Field Staff.