Forest guards to be armed

By Our Staff Reporter
IMPHAL, Feb 22 : Forest Guards would be provided with firearms, stated Forest and Environment Minister Awangbow Newmai in the State Assembly today in response to a call attention motion raised by Opposition MLA Kh Joykisan regarding excavation at and encroachment into Chingkhei Hills reserved forest area.
Raising the call attention motion, Joykisan quoted the claim of Eastern Sporting Association, Top Awang Leikai that the Chingkhei Hills was declared a reserved forest area by the Manipur State Durbar in 1937 even before Manipur was merged into the Indian Union.
The Congress MLAs said that earth is being excavated from Chingkhei Hills in a rampant manner using heavy machinery.
Although the Government had declared the area as a reserved forest, around 70 homesteads located within the reserved forest area had been issued pattas as pointed in a complaint lodged by the Eastern Sporting Association, Joykisan said.
Even though Forest officials swung into action to pull up those people who were excavating earth from the hills, all the defaulters were let scot-free, merely at phone calls made by some influential individuals, Joykisan said.
Clarifying to the call attention motion, Forest and Environment Minister Awangbow Newmai said that some Forest officials were designated to check excavation and deforestation activities at the Chingkhei Hills reserved forest area.
As Forest Department has been facing shortage of manpower, it took help from police when unlawful activities were detected to pull up the defaulters.
It was reported that excavation of earth from Chingkhei Hills was done mostly during night. From September last year till date, Rs 1.88 lakh was collected as fine/penalty for excavating earth from Chingkhei Hills. In addition, two trucks and two excavators (JCBs) were seized, Awangbow said.
He also admitted that Forest officials have been facing lot of difficulties in discharging their duties as they often came under heavy pressure through phone calls from influential individuals.
Nonetheless, Forest officials have been working hard to check all unlawful activities. There were instances when a number of labourers were employed and tents were put up to excavate earth during night.
The tents were dismantled and the unlawful elements were pulled up four/five times, and necessary actions were taken up, Awangbow said.
All those people pulled up for such unlawful activities were taken to Court unfailingly but the limited number of Forest Guards cannot keep watch over the entire reserved forest area for 24 hours, said the Forest and Environment Minister.
In Manipur, one Forest Guard has been keeping watch over 24 Sq Kms but in other States, three Forest Guards are sanctioned for every square Km.
Even though there are around 400 Forest Guards, each Forest Beat does not get more two/three guards, Awangbow said.
He added that Forest Guards would be provided with firearms.