Forest guards leave job in droves, thanks to poor working conditions
- Forest Protection Force has failed to retain employees even after providing an initial salary of Rs 20,000
- The job of forest watcher has no stipulated working hours and are often summoned at odd hours to check poachers and smugglers
- The government has not yet considered their demand for 12-hour shift-work or an off day after two days of work
The forest watchers, who form the frontline in forest protection, lead an unenvious life with no weekly offs or leaves, besides the huge risk they take to protect the forests and wildlife. No wonder, more than 500 watchers under Forest Protection Force in Kerala quit the job, thanks to the pathetic working condition.
The role of a forest watcher is a 365 days business. Though this job promises an initial salary of Rs 20,000, there are no weekly holidays and leaves are a luxury. Blessed are those who get a few days leave to visit their family. They spent weeks and months inside the forest and have no time for family or social life.
With no lean periods, the job is more than demanding. At times, forest watchers under the Forest Protection Force are forced to work for weeks, continuously without a break. There are no working hour regulations or directives specifying the duty hours of forest watchers.
Their long-term demand for shift system was also neglected. The watchers want to introduce 12-hour shift-work system or an off-day after two days of work. Though they are supposed to work only for six hours outside the office, they must be present within a range of 16 kilometres of the forest range office. It is also necessary to seek the permission of deputy ranger to go beyond this limit.
Watchers are free to return to the station on completion of duty, but the facility is not entirely implemented. Further, they could be summoned at any time to check on poachers or smugglers. Those from other districts suffer the most as they don't get enough leave to visit their home. Families often have to fend for themselves as it is often difficult to communicate with the watchers as they work in deep forests where the mobile signal strength would be very weak or nil.
Besides the threat of wild animals, their lives are at risk as they have to deal with wildlife poachers and loggers. Despite all the hardships, the personnel who guard and preserve the rich natural heritage of the country continue to be neglected lot.