By A. Subramani
CHENNAI: They are eyes and ears of the forest department, as they comb core jungles on foot. Anti-poaching watchers, who are engaged casually in hundreds, spend years without any regular pay, because neither their 'recruitment' nor their salary has sanction of law.
Now, coming to their rescue, the Madras high court has frowned upon the Tamil Nadu government for keeping open this backdoor open and directed it to frame proper rules to regulate recruitment of anti-poaching and plot watchers and regularize the services of those who have put in continuous service for more than 10 years.
Justice S Nagamuthu, passing orders on a batch of petitions, said: "It is the high time for the government to consider and take a policy decision either to include the posts of anti-poaching watchers and plot watchers in the Tamil Nadu Forest Subordinate Service Rules or to issue a special rules governing them."
"These plot watchers and anti-poaching watchers have not been appointed by following any procedure of selection. They were not even sponsored by the local employment exchange. They were appointed at the whims and fancies of officers," he said.
Plot watchers work in plantations and develop nurseries in the forest and the job of anti-poaching watchers is to protect wildlife. In 2009, the state government created 3,058 supernumerary posts and accommodated as many plot watchers who had completed 10 years of service as daily wagers. In June 2010, a total of 137 anti-poaching watchers were appointed in regular posts in similar supernumerary posts. The present batch of petitions was filed by those who are yet to get similar benefit even after completing 10 years of service, said their counsel G Sankaran.
Justice Nagamuthu, citing a 2012 government order, said the watchers were the eyes and ears of the forest department. "Many of them are forced to work for below reasonable minimum wages. It is not as though the plot watchers and anti-poaching watchers are required only for a temporary period. These people are very essential for preserving plantations as well as wildlife sanctuaries and reserves. It is also not the case of the government that the services of these people will not be required after a particular time. While that be so, it is surprising that the government has been appointing these watchers without any service rule regulating their qualifications, method of appointment, salary, etc. Certainly, this would have encouraged back door entries into the government service."