Finally, Forest Department to get a 24x7 helpline

January 16, 2018 11:49 pm | Updated 11:49 pm IST -

A file photo of elephants damaging crops in a fringe village.

A file photo of elephants damaging crops in a fringe village.

When there is a herd of elephants helping themselves to crops in the village, or an over-hanging, aged tree is on the verge of falling, who does one call? If the police can be reached on a 100 number, or the Fire Department on 101, why not the Forest Department?

More than 154 years after the formation of the department, there will finally be a helpline and control room to receive complaints and queries. A 24-hour helpline, ‘1926’ — a standardised number across the country — is expected to be operational by Republic Day this year.

Subhash K. Malkhede, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Vigilance), who is overseeing the setting up of the helpline, said the control room would have six people manning it and 30 lines to receive complaints.

The creation of a helpline has been a long-pending demand, and the department’s short-experiment with a toll-free number (1800-425-1314) manned by two of their staff members did little to address the need.

“The 24x7 control room will be equipped with a dashboard so that information of officers, programmes and schemes, or even registration of complaints, can be taken from any caller from any part of the State. On the previous toll-free number, getting information about officers in rural areas was a problem,” said Mr. Malkhede.

The hope is that the control room will finally allow citizens to anonymously lodge complaints of illegal tree felling, wildlife crimes and other violations. The experience of Maharashtra, which set up the first helpline in January 2017, is encouraging. Barely a few months after the helpline was launched, a tip-off led to an inquiry against two forest officials accused of corruption.

Punati Shridhar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), said the helpline would complement a proposed wildlife crime control cell that will act as an intelligence and coordinating body between agencies such as forest mobile squads, police, and the CID’s wildlife crime cell.

CM’s medals

The helpline is not the only police model being adopted by the Forest Department. Nearly 36 years after policemen started receiving ‘CM’s medals’ as a note of encouragement, forest staff are set to receive the same.

According to a notification dated December 2017, 25 forest personnel will be awarded CM’s medals for their work in protection of forests, removal of encroachments, and handling man-animal conflict and anti-poaching activities.

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