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MP govt order letting DMs evaluate forest officers puts conservation in jeopardy — IFS Association

In letter to administration, association says order also violates SC ruling that reporting authority can be from outside of dept only for principal chief conservator of forests.

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New Delhi: The Indian Forest Service Association has requested the Madhya Pradesh government to modify its June order, which states that district magistrates and divisional commissioners would have a say in the appraisals of the IFS officers serving in districts.

The 29 June government order mandates that tasks related with forest management, the Forest Rights Act, land acquisition, ecotourism, mining activities in forest areas performed by IFS officers serving as Divisional Forest Officer, Conservator of Forests, and Chief Conservator of Forests, be evaluated by the district collector and divisional commissioner.

The IFS officers are to be graded on a scale of 10 by the district collector and divisional commissioner, who are also supposed to give remarks about the IFS officers in their appraisal report, according to the government's order.

The order raises questions of conflict of interest, contravenes a Supreme Court judgement, endangers forest conservation, in addition to dampening the morale of the officers of the IFS, the Association letter dated 4 July, says.

“This administrative order will serve as a major setback for the conservation and protection of natural resources of the country, which is the prime mandate of the Indian Forest Service Officers,” it says.

“It is baffling to note that an officer is being assessed by two officers from different departments, which could adversely impact the career progression of the officer,” the letter adds. “It is sadly noted, the order says that senior officers like Conservator of Forests and Chief Conservator of Forests posted in the District will be assessed by District Collector/Commissioner, who are generally officers of much junior pay scale.”

According to IFS officers INDIANEXPOSE spoke to, the question of conflict of interest is graver than the question of administrative hierarchies and career progression.

“As an officer of the IFS, my job is to preserve the forests from encroachment including encroachment by the state, which is the biggest encroacher of forest land,” a senior IFS officer said.

“It is mostly the DMs who are under pressure to encroach on forest land for developmental activities like building roads, schools, water tanks etc.,” the officer explained. “My job is to follow due procedure before forest land is granted for development work, and not grant it on some occasions as well…That puts my work in direct opposition to the work of the DM. But now, if I have to be evaluated by the DM for my career progression, that is a clear conflict of interest.”

The order, therefore, puts forest conservation at great risk as it indirectly puts pressure on IFS officers, who are custodians of forest land, to give away land as quickly and indiscriminately as possible, the officer added.

The order is also in contravention of a 1995 Supreme Court judgement, which states that “up to the officer of the rank of Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, the reporting authority has to be the immediately superior officer within the Forest Department.”

It is only in the case of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, who has no superior authority within the service, that the reporting authority can be outside of the forest department, the judgement said.

Requesting the CM to accordingly revise the order, the Association says, the order “may be kindly examined and suitably modified, as it amounts to a gross violation of the orders of the Honourable Supreme Court.”

“Your kind consideration of this request will go a long way in the protection and conservation of the precious natural resources of the Nation,” it adds.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

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