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A technicality should not save offenders

A technicality should not save offenders

Commonsense dictates that the RFO cannot humanly verify all complaints personally and then file an FIR.

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Last Updated : 08 June 2024, 02:00 IST
Last Updated : 08 June 2024, 02:00 IST
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Over the years, the Karnataka Forest Department has registered approximately 90,000 cases for various offences including encroachment, poaching and smuggling, but a majority of them may fall through even if they have been investigated meticulously, all because of a technicality. The state government amended the Karnataka Forest Act in 2010 to include Section 62A, which stipulates that FIRs for forest offences can be registered by a forest officer not below the rank of a Range Forest Officer (RFO).  However, the Karnataka Forest Manual,1976, says that any forester and forest guard can file an FIR and also details the process to be followed. The RFO was mandated to personally enquire into at least 25% of these cases. The forest guards were empowered to file the FIR as they are the ones who usually first come across an offence. The 2010 amendment to the Forest Act naturally supersedes the manual, but superior officers failed to educate their subordinates about the new legal provision, leading to the present confusion. As a result, officers below the rank of RFO continued to file thousands of FIRs against various offenders.

Until a few years ago, cases filed by the subordinates were admitted by the courts. However, subsequently the High Court held that FIRs registered by officers below the rank of RFOs were invalid in view of the 2010 amendment. Due to this, hundreds, if not thousands, of cases, including those in which chargesheets have been filed, stand the risk of being dismissed by default. If this happens, years of painstaking investigation by officers will not only go waste, but it will lead to encroachers and smugglers going unpunished, besides emboldening them further. Unlike other crimes, where the complainant visits the police station, in the case of forest offences, complaints are usually received on telephone. The guard or the watcher then visits the spot, verifies the incident, and then registers a complaint. There are also instances where the RFO’s post may be vacant or the incumbent may be on tour. Commonsense dictates that the RFO cannot humanly verify all complaints personally and then file an FIR. 

There may have been some strong reason behind amending the Act to authorise only RFOs to register a complaint, but it has had the opposite effect to the stated aim of protecting forests. Forest Minister Eshwar Khandre has now written to the department top brass to examine the issue. The department should immediately find a legal solution, for allowing the offenders to go scot-free due to a technicality would be nothing short of criminal.

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