On February 20, 2017, Range Forest Officer (RFO) Daulat Ram Lader was having his ritual after-dinner tea with wife Pushpa when there was a knock at the door. Lader was posted at Lailunga, Dharamjaigarh forest division, in Chhattisgarh’s Raigarh district.
Lader opened the door and stepped out to speak with the visitors. An hour later, he was found hacked to death near his home, just across the local police thana (outpost).
A month earlier, Lader had seized a tractor carrying illegally mined stones from the Kelo river, a tributary of Mahanadi and flows through the Lailunga reserve forest. It belonged to one Dilo Kumar. “Kumar had repeatedly threatened Lader over the past month,” said Sub-Divisional Officer Chakrapani Sharma. “(But) Lader dabang type ka tha (he was fearless).”
Lader’s murder was not an isolated incident. India is currently the most dangerous country for forest rangers. In 2017, 29 rangers were killed on duty in India; the Democratic Republic of Congo (17) and Thailand (8) made for a distant second and third, according to a report of the International Ranger Federation.
Between 2012 and 2017, India accounted for nearly 31 per cent — 162 of 526 — ranger deaths. Besides being the highest globally, this is just one less than the sum of deaths of the next five countries on the list — Congo, Thailand, Kenya, the US and South Africa. Frontline forest staff in India are increasingly targeted by poachers, illegal miners, timber smugglers and encroachers.
The work that rangers do is critical to India’s ecological and economic security. The forests they protect absorb 11.25 per cent of India’s greenhouse gases, according to a Ministry of Environment and Forests report. The value of what is technically called an “ecosystem service” would amount to ~6 trillion ($120 billion).
India does not stand by its forest rangers even in death. There is no “institutional pan-India life or health insurance schemes for frontline forest staff,” said Sanjay Pathak, deputy inspector general, National Tiger Conservation Authority.
Source, Data and analysis: Indiaspend