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!