The Forest Department is in the process of acquiring 250 single barrel breech loading (SBBL) guns to tackle smugglers, mostly those smuggling the precious red sanders in Rayalaseema districts. This was stated by Special Chief Secretary of Environment and Forests M. Samuel at the Forest Martyrs Day which was observed in the Nehru Zoological Park here on Saturday. An impressive parade was organised on the occasion and wreaths placed on the martyrs memorial at the entrance to the zoo.
Forest Department personnel were equipped with weapons which were subsequently withdrawn as there were numerous instances of naxalites attacking the staff and snatching away the rifles. These weapons were deposited by the government in various police stations after naxalite activity picked up in the 1980s. They were mostly muskets and .303 rifles procured in 1950s and were not in a working condition.
Mr. Samuel added that the forest ranges were being reorganised as the area of operation of beat officers was much more than their counterparts in other States due to the vast extent of forest here. Additional posts of assistant beat officers were also being considered for effective supervision of forest wealth. Principal Chief Conservator of Forest S.V. Kumar said the procurement of the new weapons for forest staff was taken up by the State Trading Corporation of India. Mr. Kumar added that two dog squads were constituted to track smugglers of red sanders.
Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Vigilance) B. Muralikrishna said 30 forest personnel were killed in attacks by smugglers and extremists since the first incident in June 1982.