By A. Subramani
CHENNAI: They are the 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, Madras high court has frowned upon the Tamil Nadu government for keeping open this back door open all these years and has directed it to frame proper rules to regulate fresh recruitment of anti-poaching and plot watchers and regularize the services of those watchers who had put in continuous service for more than 10 years in the department.
Justice S Nagamuthu, passing orders on a batch of writ petitions said: "It is the high time for the government to consider and to take a policy decision either to include these two posts of anti-poaching watchers and plot watchers in the Tamil Nadu Forest Subordinate Service Rules or to issue a special rules governing these two posts. If this is not done, I am sure that the back door entry into these services cannot be prevented...Admittedly, 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."
Plot watchers work in plantation and develop nurseries in the forest, others working in the protection of wildlife are anti-poaching watchers.
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 payscale 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, concurring with his submissions, cited a 2012 government order to state that the watchers were the eyes and ears of forest department in wildlife sanctuaries and reserves. "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 the 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."
He then directed the government to regularize the services anti-poaching watchers who had now put in 10 years of service, and asked it to issue appropriate rules governing the posts or include the two posts in Tamil Nadu Forest Subordinate Service Rules so as to regulate appointments of plot watchers and anti-poaching watchers in order to avoid back door entry.