New Delhi: The ministry of environment and forests has proposed several steps to improve the working conditions of front-line forest field staff, who are responsible for protection and preservation of India’s wildlife and are often deprived of basic facilities such as clean drinking water, toilets, electricity, communication systems and medical aid.

The ministry, in consultation with state governments, plans to provide them with specialized training, incentives for working under tough conditions and career growth on par with other security forces such as the police.

“Such measures will be a huge boost for thousands of forests guards and rangers manning hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests in the country," a senior environment ministry official said. “Even through their job is tough, demanding and involves high risk, they are poorly paid, under-equipped, untrained and consequently demotivated."

The front-line forest staff is recruited by the state governments but their work is guided by overall policies decided by the environment and forests ministry at the central government level. They carry out many functions such as policing, afforestation works, protecting forests and other natural resources.

“Ensuring their welfare is a prerequisite to secure our ecosystem, forests and wildlife. As the issue is of utmost concern, some urgent actions have been planned," the official said, declining to be named.

The measures the ministry is planning for their welfare include rationalization of recruitment policy to ensure that there is no shortage of staff and offering them adequate scope for timely promotions.

Regular training at defined intervals and scope for specialized training in order to deal with new emerging challenges are also among the measures.

There are around 110,000 forest rangers, deputy forest rangers, foresters and forest guards across India and there is a vacancy of around 25,000 against the sanctioned strength, according to centre’s estimates.

The environment ministry is pitching for better service condition such as accommodation for families of front-line forest staff in cities and provision of facilities such as clean drinking water and protective gear for field staff.

The ministry has also suggested offering them special incentives for working in difficult and remote forest areas on the lines of special allowance and free ration for staff working in tiger reserves.

The ministry believes that some states have already taken welfare measures such as provision for ration staff welfare funds and that these can be replicated in other states.

The measures will be given a final shape in consultation with state governments in a meeting of environment ministers of all states scheduled in the first week of April.

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