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Thread: Revitalizing Indian Forest Services (IFS)

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  1. #1
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    Default Revitalizing Indian Forest Services (IFS)

    Right now, conservation in India is facing its worst possible midlife crisis.

    Forest covers have diminished, and its business as usual for poachers. Tiger – the mascot of Indian wildlife has been demoted to the endangered species book. The recent spate of tiger poaching would have anybody believe that the magnificent king of the jungle was a dumb forest cat with pretty stripes. The MoEF and IFS have seriously botched up conservation in the country.

    The IFS officers / conservators were meant to be experts in a particular forest reserve; combing the forest on a rusty old 4X4 jeep, evangelizing pet conservation projects amongst locals, helping out natural history scientists and mobilizing efforts against poaching. The conservator’s job was meant to have a healthy mix of scientific, administrative and managerial responsibilities. Today the IFS officer’s role has become largely bureaucratic with focus on doing banal (important nevertheless) activities like census, taxation of forest product, reporting forest acreage etc. Today the scientific research led / conducted by the IFS is insignificant. When it comes to conservation, the officers are more reactive than proactive. The current mandate of the IFS to champion the cause of conserving forests and wildlife in the face of developmental activities is a sham. We all know that the ills of conservation in India are an implementation and administrative problem. Hence, the IFS and MoEF are squarely to be blamed for this quagmire we are in.

    But can we really blame the IFS for all the ills plaguing India’s conservation story?

    The Indian civil services were a carryover from the British civil services. The Brits designed the system to reflect their own complicated divide and rule political agenda. Today the charter / mandate of the IFS is both unscientific and archaic. Change is the need of the hour.

    Six Initial suggestions:
    1. IFS Strategic Goal – Quality of the environment and its impact should be the strategic goal and NOT just conservation (acreage, poaching, tiger rehabilitation etc)
    2. Conservator becomes the Arbitrator – Let the IFS be the arbitrator of crimes / issues related to Indian Forest / wildlife. Modelled on court martial, the IFS should be given their own infrastructure (detention centres, prisons) and manpower to conduct such hearing. Legislation should be passed to make this body independent of the IPC and judiciary. The judges could be the IFS officer and independent retired judge.
    3. Forest rangers should be paid on par or better than their police counterpart.
    4. Short Term Conservation Services – Modelled on the Indian Armed forces, IFS should open the gates for citizens to be associated with conservation for 2-3 years. This would bring in new ideas, talent to the conservation brigade.
    5. Performance Appraisal – The IFS officer should evaluate his subordinates and be evaluated himself on more aggressive benchmarks. Let pay-scale and promotion be performance related and not yrs of experience related.
    a. 20% conservation
    b. 20% scientific papers
    c. 20% judicial
    d. 20% administrative
    e. 20% driving unique pet conservation projects which are over and above given mandate. Salary increase and Promotion should be linked to this initiative. Indian conservation needs new ideas and initiatives!
    1. Funding Initiative – IFS should proactively pitch in for private and government funding for key projects. They should be evaluated on their impact to bring about a public-private partnership in conservation.


    In spite the alarming state of conservation in India, it’s important to understand that the IFS can play a crucial role in turning the tide. With less of squabbling (ministers and their turfs) and more of collaboration, we can check this debacle.

    Your suggestions are welcome!

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    this is indeed a good proposition. In the private sector this would be easier to implement. However with the IFS candidates being chosen by the UPSC, i wonder to what extent this would be applicable. Moreso, with so many posts lying vacant... I tend to wonder how they would react to their salaries being held dependant to the implementation of proposals...
    Regards,
    Bibhav Behera
    www.bibhavbehera.com

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bibhav Behera View Post
    However with the IFS candidates being chosen by the UPSC, i wonder to what extent this would be applicable. Moreso, with so many posts lying vacant... I tend to wonder how they would react to their salaries being held dependant to the implementation of proposals...
    UPSC has its critics; but over the years have managed to select top folks for the civil services. Its another story as to what happens after the greenhorns have a whiff of the corridors of power!

    From a personal viewpoint - one of my very good friends recently completed his training at the IFS institute, Deharadun. The guy is highly qualified, gold medalist in Botany from top institute etc. But poor bloke has been transformed after he graduated. Now, his talks are centered more like private sector pay so much compared to public sector; have to go to dinner with 'important' folks...the passion to explore, appreciate, protect the forest is hard to find in him...and the dude is just 4 months in the system!

    About positions lying vacant - I think the Indian Gov needs to explore the idea of a mix of fulltime and part-time (short service) model. Healthy churning is the need of the hour.

    Wishlist - we need a TN Seshan in the Indian Conservation story!

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    Legacy of the past:
    We have inherited the system created by the British that served their purpose. The British viewed our forests as a resource to plunder. Timber extraction was one of their primary aims. They also cleared vast tracts of virgin forests and set up teak plantations.

    Lovely tracts of dense shola forests were cleared up for setting up tea and coffee and orange plantations in the South. There were similar stories in other parts of the country. They taught our foresters to view forests from the same exploitive perspective. Unfortunately, our foresters continue the same mindset even after the British have left.

    It is important that the foresters are trained to do scientific management of our forests rather than acting as timber merchants.

    Restructuring required in MoEF:
    The MoEF has to be first split and the cadre managing the forests should be separated from the environment wing. In the last decade and half the MoEF has shown scant concern for environment and has cleared projects with huge environmental foot prints. It has also come to light that interested parties (for eg persons in the board of NHPC, mining companies have been members of the Expert committee and most likely clearing the same files)

    CNN-IBN had reported that M L Mazumdar, chairperson of the Additional Expert Committee, which looks at approvals of mining projects in the country, is also on the board of directors of four mining companies.

    Shockingly, all projects applied for by these four mining companies have got approval from the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Mazumdar sits on the board of Uranium Corporation India Ltd, which has had five projects cleared since 2006.

    RGB Minerals, another company Mazumdar is part of, has had one project cleared. Adhunik Metaliks has had 10 projects cleared.

    Hindustan Dorr Oliver Ltd, the fourth company, provides services to most mining companies applying to the Ministry for clearance.

    Infact, the Hon’ble Minister for MoEF Shri Jairam Ramesh has been quoted as saying that the MoEF has been acting like a clearing house for large projects. It is good that realisation is there at the top.

    Similarly, the director of NEERI (National Environment Engineering Research Institute) which did the EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) for the Numaligarh Refinery near Kaziranga, was soon made the Chairman of the Expert committee that was asked to approve the project in ‘89-‘90. And there are many more similar examples.

    Appraisals:
    The forest department has a crucial role to play in saving the tiger and other flora and fauna. Objective appraisals seems to be a good idea.

    Short term Conservation Service
    I liked the idea of Short term Conservation Service. It would help in roping in people from other walks of life who are engaged in other jobs for a living but nevertheless have passion and ideas for conservation. They are likely to act like a whiff of fresh air and are likely to stimulate our moribund conservation efforts. The Government has started taking its tentative steps for eg. bringing in Nandan Nilekani to head the Unique Id scheme. It is now limited at the top. That idea has to be expanded and brought down as a short term service level.


    I agree that there should be more powers with the local officers. Our present system of prosecution has failed. Special courts and powers seems to be a good idea.


    Cheers,
    Sabyasachi

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    I agree with you Ranbir...

    Very often we see passions dying down when it becomes 'work' for oneself...

    Just a thought here...
    Could motivations be low considering the fact that people joining the IFS get lesser attention than the IPS or the IAS recruit. They don't get too many salaams around either... Am saying this, being the son of a senior IPS officer and having seen the differential treatments and oppurtunities people get, I feel it is somewhat true...
    Regards,
    Bibhav Behera
    www.bibhavbehera.com

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    Default Politics and IFS

    I am noticing off late, that young IFS officers when they are posted as probationers, deliver a lot, work hard etc..

    By the time they get posted as DCF many of them are completely spoilt and "influenced"..

    The system needs a fundamental revamp.. At least National Parks must be brought under Central Government and must be managed through a specialised service under Civil Services.

    Personally i don't believe IFS will add value in future. It is getting relegated to very few people interested in forestry and passion for wildlife.

    Many people who could not get into Civil services try and get into IFS and the rot sets in very early. I can name (and prove) many young IFS officers who are absolutely corrupt.

    The force is completely politicised with PCCFs fighting for the main job and in the process the department gets divided into various sects, forcing officers to align with some group or the other.

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