More teeth to Forest Act

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Hyderabad: The State government is likely to amend the Forest Act to give it more teeth. The amended Act will be aimed at strengthening the laws and give more powers to the forest officials for protection and conservation of forests as well as wildlife. The State government has adopted for a new policy of ‘zero felling of trees’ to prevent organised criminals from felling trees in forest areas, rather than arresting them and seizing the logs after the felling of trees.

In a video conference with the forest officials across the State on Friday, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) PK Jha asked the officers to brace up and crack the whip against timber smugglers, as per the instructions of Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao. He pointed out that the Chief Minister was strengthening the arms of the department to protect the forests and wipe out organised criminals. “Nearly 2,000 vacant posts have been filled.

We need to use strong force to meet our objective of forest protection,” he added.

Without any exception, it has been made mandatory for all the forest staff to set up a base camp for every forest beat and conduct on-foot inspection as well as night patrolling. The officials were also warned against harassing licensed timber merchants and carpenters with requisite permits from the government, failing which stringent action will be initiated in case of such complaints.

The officers were instructed to shutdown the saw mills which were functioning in some districts without necessary licenses or face departmental action for their irresponsibility. The licensed timber merchants, carpenters and saw millers have been asked to maintain proper records, failing which they might lose their licenses and permits.

“The forest officers will be responsible for any irregularities in their area and will face departmental action in such cases,” Jha warned.

During the raids conducted for the last one month, the officials have seized 659 cubic metres of logs worth about Rs 1.58 crore. About 486 persons were arrested under 701 cases and proposals have been submitted to impose the Preventive Detention Act against 11 habitual offenders and organised criminals. The officials were asked to seek the support of elected representatives, officials from other departments and local people, to curb tree felling in forests.

PCCF (vigilance) Raghuveer, PCCF (production) Prithviraj, additional PCCFs Lokesh Jaiswal, Sobha, Swargam Srinivas and others also were present.