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Monday, December 5, 2016

Forest Protection Force fails to recruit 60 ADs in last 20 years

Lack of interest evident after a Forest Minister failed to appoint his own daughter and a top separatist leader’s son through backdoor in the year 2000

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz


JAMMU, Dec 4: When National Conference regained power after a seven-year-long pause of Governor’s and President’s rule in October 1996, it attached top most priority to protection of the State’s depleting sylvan cover. Creation of the Jammu and Kashmir Forest Protection Force (FPF) in December 1996 was highlighted as the Farooq Abdullah government’s significant decision and a remarkable achievement.

The Government accorded sanction to creation of 2,257 posts including one Director of the rank of Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF), two Joint Directors of the rank of CF, 30 Deputy Directors of the rank of DCF, 60 Assistant Directors of the rank of Range Officer Grade-I, 150 Inspectors of the rank of Forester and 1500 FPF Guards equivalent to Forest Guards. Government decided to create 30 operational units of FPF which in jurisdiction would be co-terminus with equal number of Territorial Forest Divisions in the State.

Jammu and Kashmir Forest Protection Force Act 2001 came into force subsequently on April 12, 2001. A committee of officers was constituted for drafting of the ‘Working Rules’ and ‘Recruitment Rules’ with standing instructions that the same be got drafted and notified within a year. Even as the Force is completing 20 years of its life this week, it has failed to draft and notify the Recruitment Rules in the last two decades.

While the successive governments borrowed senior officers, including Director, JDs and DDs from the Forest Department, they picked up a profusion of favourites to fill up the lower rungs of FPF Guards, Inspectors through recruitment board. One of the most important levels—60 Assistant Directors—was left vacant after a Forest Minister failed to appoint favourites, including his own daughter and a senior separatist leader’s son, through backdoor.

Farooq Abdullah’s government was forced to drop its plan when a leading national newspaper reported that Forest Minister Peerzada Ghulam Ahmad Shah was planning to appoint 60 hand-picked youths, including his own daughter and a separatist leader’s son, on so-called ‘ad hoc’ basis. The idea was to subsequently regularise the appointees against the substantive vacancies of AD in FPF.

But cognizance by media and judiciary brought no relief to hundreds of the unemployed youths with graduation, post-graduation or doctorate in Forestry. Many of them crossed the qualifying age bar while a number of them chose to pick up inferior jobs like orderly, Rehbar-e-Taleem teacher, clerks and drivers. Others kept running from pillar to post in search of a job but failed to get one. Even some marriages and engagements broke as the boy or the girl carried the ignominious tag of ‘unemployed’.

The Minister’s daughter had DDR training and the separatist leader’s son another course. Neither of them was equivalent to Bachelor of Forestry (B Sc Forestry). While as the separatist leader managed to absorb his son through backdoor in a University, the Minister sent his daughter to pursue MBBS. She has been working as a doctor in the State Health Department for long. Thereafter, successive governments of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti demonstrated no will to either fill up the 60 vacancies of AD in FPF or provide employment to 800-odd Forestry graduates and post-graduates. Doors for them remained permanently shut in Forest Department, J&K State Forest Corporation, J&K State Pollution Control Board, Social Forestry Department, FPF and other departments and organisations in Forest sector.

Why exactly has the Government for 20 years slept over this issue and failed to make Recruitment Rules that would have helped Public Service Commission (PSC) and Services Selection Board (SSB) to make selection of candidates for appointment as ADs?

“There was, in fact, a bunch of litigations. Some people wanted the rules and recruitment on the pattern of Police Department while as others insisted that these should be based on merit and qualification as in Forest and other civil departments”, Commissioner-Secretary Forest Mohammad Afzal Bhat told STATE TIMES. “Finally, the J&K High Court clubbed the writ petitions and gave us direction last month to notify the Recruitment Rules within two months. We have accordingly redrafted the Rules and currently the same are pending with Department of Administrative Reforms, Inspections and Training. I am sure, we will notify the same within two months”.

According to Commissioner-Secretary Forest, the FPF Recruitment Rules would be duly processed and cleared by Departments of ARI Training, General Administration Department, Chief Minister and Department of Law. Thereafter, these would be notified by way of SRO by Department of Law.

Insiders, however, are pessimistic. "Our politicians and bureaucrats have huge vested interest in absence of technically qualified staff in Forest sector. When you have these vacancies filled up with young and energetic Forest officers who would come from PSC or SSB, who will provide timber free of cost to hundreds of influential politicians and officers in Friends Enclave and other posh colonies?", said an official, insisting that he may not be identified.

Without providing job to a single of the 800 unemployed Forestry graduates, Mehbooba Mufti’s Cabinet on June 22, 2016, reorganised the cadres in FPF. Out of the 60 gazetted posts of AD (which were equivalent to gazetted Range Officer Grade-I in pay scale of 9300—34800/GP 4280), 30 posts were downgraded and named as AD Grade-II and made equivalent to non-gazetted Range Officers Grade-II in pay scale of 9300—34800/GP 4200). At the same time, 30 posts of Inspectors (equivalent to Forester in pay scale of 5200—20,200/GP 2800) were upgraded to the level of AD-II.

Now only 15 vacancies of AD-I will be filled up directly through PSC while as the remaining 15 vacancies of AD-I, besides all the 60 vacancies of AD-II, have been reserved for promotion of in-service Inspectors. It has further reduced prospects of a job for the unemployed qualified and trained Forestry graduates in FPF.


[Published in today’s STATE TIMES]

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