The Training of a Forest Guard

The Himachal Cabinet in its wisdom has decided to recruit 465 forest guards (The Tribune, 12 May 2016). In the past too, the HP Government has recruited forest guards en masse (after years of NO RECRUITMENT). Little thought, however, is given to their training, both in terms of method and content. Despite major infrastructural improvements at the 2 Forest Training Institutes at Chail and Sundernagar, thanks to the generosity of Japanese Aid (and earlier of DFID, UK), there remain glaring gaps in the quality of training being imparted at these institutes.


The World over, training in various disciplines or rather multi and inter-disciplines is becoming more professionalized and specialized. The Forest Guard remains and has been at the ‘cutting edge’ of forestry practice and more importantly is the department’s interface with the people. A year or so back, the government after dragging its feet for years finally agreed that the minimum qualification for a forest guard would now be Plus 2. Recruitment which is now based on a competitive examination has ‘naturally’ resulted in induction of more and more women in the department. However, given the service conditions and the fact that most new recruits are from truly rural backgrounds, their training becomes all the more challenging. To begin with, basic skills (and understanding) of elementary arithmetic and geometry is essential (but hugely wanting), something our ‘education system’ is not particularly good at.

Consider: today a typical forest guard recruit ( rural Plus 2 and 23 years old), is required to study, understand and implement Forest and related laws which include the Cattle Trespass Act, 1871; the Indian Forest Act, 1927; the Public Premises Act, 1971; the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972; the Environment Protection Act, 1976; the Land Preservation Act, 1978; the Forest Conservation Act, 1980; the HP Non Biodegradable Garbage (Control) Act, 1995; the Biological Diversity Act, 2002; the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and of course knowledge of relevant sections and rules under the IPC and the Criminal Procedure Code. In addition, the forest guard is required to have good, working knowledge of Fire Rules, Mining Rules, Timber Transit Rules, Timber Distribution Rules and the Rules & Regulations under the various Acts listed above. Who says the Legislature doesn’t work?!

This is the present course content for forest guards under the subject: Forest Law! Mind you, and it is one of the subjects among the 19 others she is expected to ‘learn’ during training. The time allowed, including tours, holidays (and there are many) and leave is 6 months. The actual training time comes to about 4 months.

This hurried training with no consideration for average and individual learning capacity, remains basically class room and lecture mode driven. A forest guard’s job on the other hand is near completely field oriented.

Training in-capacity?

The training capacity, including hostel accommodation, at both Sundernagar and Chail is around 50 per batch of trainees. Given the 6 month course duration a maximum of 200 forest guards can be ‘trained’ in a year. So, 465 trainees will take about two and a half years before they can be deployed in the field as trained forest guards. By that time, another 400 odd forests guards and about 300 odd Deputy Rangers will have retired. As there is no direct recruitment of Deputy Rangers, they all get promoted from forest guards. In effect then over two years there will be over 700 vacancies in the forest guard cadre. This is about one third of the total strength of forest guards in HP.

Both Sundernagar and Chail forest training institutes are run by shoe string in-house faculty; reluctant and ever on the lookout for greener pastures. Sundernagar, BTW also hosts a Rangers College, the first in HP, but run by the same overstretched faculty!

Handywoman Syndrome

Field staff in the forest department is seen and valued as Handymen, though now increasingly Handywomen, following the forced feminization of forestry via open competition. Training outcomes are geared to produce ‘jack-of-all-trades’ which more contemporaneously should read ‘Jack & Jane (or Jill?) of-all-trades’. Maybe this institutional legacy flows from the top where forest officers are still trained as ‘Tinkers’ or Mr / Ms FIXIT IFS, if you please.


Problems and issues of forest management have, however, like everything else grown big. Tinkering here and tinkering there works no more. Please notice that despite over a century and a half of forest management, the department still does not have an effective forest fire response system based on Standard Operating Procedures or a uniform post fire, damage assessment system that is ecologically (and gender!) sensitive.

Meanwhile, the forest guard, young and starry eyed, untrained or hurriedly trained is deployed in the field where in due course they learn to make a killing (of sorts); maybe the best ‘Handymen’ can do.

OK, so what to do?

It’s too tiresome to keep coming back to Square One all or most of the time and have to think or dream of building the world anew. Yet, we keep hearing that to build responsive institutions we need sensible (or rather common-sensible) persons who like their jobs, and then the institutions in turn would produce more such sensible persons? And possibly (Climate Change permitting) we would know sustainability in practice?

How nice that would be!

Nodnat - is a pen name that the writer with deep knowledge of Himalayan flora and fauna and a keen environmentalist has adopted. He hails from Kotgarh, in Shimla Hills and retired as Principal Chief Conservator of Forests from Himachal Pradesh forest department.


  • Kalyan Shaktan says:

    Very well said. As mentioned the syllabus of Law is very vast, the trainees should be taught the practical aspect with Field exercises and case studies. Training institutes should be priority of the department. But presently there is no transportation facility for a batch of more than 50 and difficult to arrange from outside on weekly basis. No post in training institutes should remain vacant

  • Avay Shukla says:

    Training for lower level staff has always been a neglected area for govt. whereas for the “gazetted” echelons crores are spent on paid holidays and foreign junkets, thinly disguised as “capacity building” courses. The latest is that govt. will also pay for “adventure” courses once every two years to inculcate the proper dynamism in them ! Its high time we paid the same, if not more, attention to the cutting edge staff. This is even more so now that the environment- its preservation, adaptation to climate change, regulation of its natural resources, protection of endangered species, etc- is going to play a central role in all policy making. We also need to rethink the abysmally low qualification for Forest Guards: 10+2 is a joke; given the realistic levels of education a 10+2 pass student would actually be equivalent to a Class 8 student in terms of actual knowledge derived. We need to recruit only science graduates: the pay scales post 7th Pay Commission are attractive enough to justify this, and in any case there are hundreds of thousands of unemployed graduates. Pandering to the lowest common denominator is not going to save our natural environment.

    • Nodnat says:

      I agree that a rural 10+2 is a joke and more so when the medium of instruction has been in Hindi throughout; (politically incorrect but not seditious, I hope?). While upping the minimum educational qualification to graduation with science subjects (as is the case for Forest Rangers, the HPFS and the IFS) is unlikely to be politically acceptable (given all the elected Alu Persads around), for forest guards, what is being proposed by one long suppressed school of thought is to re-introduce direct recruitment of Deputy Rangers; even at 15 to 20 % of their cadre strength? It would be more acceptable to have Graduation with science at this level. Importantly such a move would inject fresh blood and youthfulness in the FD Human Resource where it is needed the most.

  • A P Nagar says:

    Great training material that the staff can refer to in typical field situations could help in redeeming the predicament and complement the deficient set-up. Post-filling, infrastructure improvement etc. would all take time and the trainees would meanwhile have come and gone.

  • Sanjeeva Pandey says:

    There are two basic points here for consideration:
    a) Our training for the Forst Guards/Rangers has failed to translate knowledge / technology into practice. Perhaps (likely) the problem is with the institutions we are trying to deliver through? Unless we are able to reform (start in small ways) the FDs or be a role model for our field staff, it is unlikely that a new compendium of good/ best practices for forest or wildlife conservation for a forest guard will be of much help.
    b) The present format of recruitment, training and posting of Forst Guards/Rangers be drastically changed/overhauled. A lot of home work needs to be done for this purpose (by whom??). Like in some years there were more than 400 Ft Gds are recruited in one year and then there is a lull in the yearly recruitment. So there is no consistency of Ft Gds intake resulting in decline in prospects of meaningful training/learning or promotions, etc.

    Then who is there to see the meaningfulness of Ft Gds’ training. I would like to point out that the present Training regime is loaded with all these unresolved issues. We need to have some agreement on the basic nature and reasons of our failure (or success?) to improve the stock of the present Ft GD training.

    In addition, we have most of the fellow IFS officers saying that (i) whatever forests found in the country would not have been there in the face of total lack of political will and ignorance and indifference of society at large. They claim that the IFS officers are taking a stand in the interest of forests and not in agreement with what is told to them to sacrifice forest land. Almost all the state govts are at dagger’s drawn with forest service. (ii) There is another set of Forest Officers who talk about professional incompetence. Such forest officers say that they are managers and a manager should know the Latin names of plants or birds, silvicultural systems or working plan code, etc. Same stuff, they try to teach to the Ft Gds. (iii) However, there is a very miniscule number of forest officers who see relevance of participatory forest management, co-existence of man and wildlife, gender issues, importance of forests for livelihoods, forest-based poverty reduction strategies, etc.

    As such, a forest officer of our genre needs to excel in the matters of providing better directions to the field staff, the community members, fellow Government Officers, NGOs (all leadership issues) so that the CONSERVATION CAN ACTUALLY WORK IN THE FIELD. I think to pose following questions to myself:
    • Do I know the processes that can lead to conservation of natural resources or save wildlife?
    • Am I capable of taking my own staff along with me to achieve the goal of Forest conservation or saving wildlife?
    • Am I proactive enough to cope with adverse situations in my job?
    • Do I try to communicate with my own colleagues, community members, NGOs, and other govt. Officials?
    • Do I try to build up Win-Win situations in my work place?
    • Is there any attempt from me to synergize my efforts and efforts of others towards conserving the natural resources?
    • Ultimately, do I try to bring in change at my work place?

    I think training of a Forest Guard is to bring a CHANGE (while Bureaucracy is all about maintaining status quo). How long can we go on with a disconnect of syllabus of Ft Gd trainings and actual field realities? If we as officers hesitate in writing our own emails or a decent letter, and depend only on the PUC written by a clerk to run a division/circle/state, I will not expect any change in the Ft Gd curriculum in the foreseeable situation.

    Submitted for comments of fellow participants on this discussion group.

  • Suresh Kumar Mishra says:

    The writer has made a true assessment of the century old training methods. Though there has been some improvements but, not to the desired extent. The quality of FIR reporting in “summary of the case” is below mark. Much learning is done in field provided he gets a good Forester or Ranger. Much time needs to be developed in the field in exposing trainees to real life situations in apprehending a poacher or wood cutter and drawing up model FIR, exposure to investigation, evidence collection etc. Guest lectures from police and experienced foresters can be arranged. Similarly, fire prevention and control methods need to be demonstrated in field. Pollution abatement and climate change need to be included as new subject. Needless to say, all these needs infrastructure development in schools as well as in Divisions. The job of the FG is such that equipping him with high tech gadgets will not only solve the problem. His/Her morale has to be kept high at all cost if the Deptt. really feels that they deliver in the field.

  • Vineet Kumar says:

    I think a rural 10+2, who understands & loves forests, wants to stay in and around forests will be a much better FG than a Science graduate/ PG or law graduate, who has no love/ respect for forests & nature. All that is required is a systematic/ perodic simple training module. No rocket science is needed. In fact, Forest department needs dedicated forest soldiers at the cutting edge level rather than highly qualified policy planners or intellectuals!!

    • Avay Shukla says:

      In the first place, assessing ” love and understanding” for the forests objectively is a difficult task. Secondly, these qualities by themselves are not enough in the 21st century where science and technology have to be fully grasped, and utilised, in every field. Operational templates have changed drastically and the old model of an FG with a lathi doing his rounds is dated. Today’s forest staff( at all levels, including that of the FG) have to be conversant with intricate laws and court judgements which keep changing all the time, the larger issues related to conservation and climate change, forestry techniques, more than just a traditional knowledge of botany and zoology and so on. A sub-standard 10+2 education by ill-qualified teachers( a recent HILLPOST news item revealed that 85% of teachers tested from HP failed a national exam for teachers!) does not equip anyone for this responsibility. That said, however, I agree with NODNAT that prescribing graduation for FGs would be politically unaccepatable and that a more viable prescription would be to reintroduce the direct quota at Dy. Ranger level with a requirement of graduation in science. This would also inject a youthful vigour to this critical level.

    • Nodnat says:

      Whether the ‘problem’ is with qualifications and training needed for a forest guard or with what you “think” is a moot point. But it would be interesting to know at what level forestry becomes a rocket science and by implication ‘intellectual’? You must be joking!

  • Vineet Kumar says:

    I fully agree that FD must have a reasonable quota of direct Dy rangers and infact we have been voicing our concern of having 100% promoted Dy rangers at various forums, but I still very strongly feel that a rural 10+2 is better suited for the job of FG. The first thing expected from a FG is that he stays in his beat hut and does regular patrolling of forests. A so called city graduate (who incidentally may not be any wiser than others) will never stay in rural/ forest areas. They will get city/ office postings immediately after their 1st appointment. This will defeat the very purpose of having him/ her in first place. Nodnat would remember facing problems in getting qualified lady FG’s posted in beats. Highly qualified male FG’s are no different. The moot question is what is the priority of FD? Whether it wants the FG’s to stay in forests or a boast to have highly qualified ” intellectuals “? While I agree that it is hell of a difficult job to pick people who love and understand forests, but precisely this is the challenge with FD. Infact at the FG level, basic understanding of laws and technology is required. Greater knowledge is probably required at the level of RO, where we need at least science graduates/ post graduates.
    Forestry and rocket science- I was really joking!! But intellectuals in FD ??? I found none??? Or maybe just one or two!!!
    Vineet Kumar

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