By Sukriti Kashyap
There is one major part of the administrative machinery much less celebrated and known than the Police Officers, Administrative officers, and even Sarkari babus; The ‘Forest Department’.
The forest department is one such group of government officials who are constantly under threat from species they are trying to protect.
They will never hear a thank you from the elephant they rescued, they will never be acknowledged for catching the hunter red-handed who killed the alpha of a tiger’s family, they might not be even spared by the lion they are trying to protect against the wrongdoers, but they do it.
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Despite the most thankless job they have on this earth, they visit the forest for patrolling, and mind you, they walk; with a tranquilizing gun, and a spirit to protect their heritage and no expectation in return from the wild.
A forest officer is one such officer who is least incentivized and still is expected to work with passion because passion is the only ingredient which can keep a person alive in the jungle.
But feeling passionate every single day, every single moment to work for the wild, to serve nature, requires a perpetual generation of passion, and when that does not happen, statistics like ‘it’s only a 14.6% conversion rate of wildlife crimes in five years’ become news of the town.
How I became a full-time Environmental Lawyer and Wild Life Law Enforcement Trainer has an emotional story behind it.
Just like any other lawyer in law school, I was full of enthusiasm to work for a big shot law firm, understanding not, who I really was.
Secretly admiring nature, working on moots revolving around nature, I forced myself to work for corporate in 2015, fooling my soul into believing that nature might just be something I like, but to earn bread and butter, one needs to be in the corporate sector.
While on my quest to earn my living and work in a typical tier 1 law firm, I almost made peace that this is how my rest of the life is going to be until I worked on a case in which I had to be the lawyer for the environmental violator.
I was part of the litigation team appearing for the Industrial group which had blatantly violated all environmental norms, and we had to defend them as a part of a lawyer’s protocol.
That event did strike some chords of my being when I first drafted the petition, followed by a hearing in National Green Tribunal in the year 2016. I knew it in my heart what I was supporting does not really align with my conscience.
Discussing my agony with my colleagues over lunch, and also trying to act like I am doing my duty, did not really help; it created a storm in my head and the more I thought about it, my misery multiplied with some good numbers.
On the third hearing as the counsel argued, I still remember I prayed to lose! What kind of a lawyer was I? well in that hearing no one lost, because injunction order was the one being challenged, and final arguments were yet to take place.
The petitioner Environmental advocate renowned Mr. Ritwick Dutta shrugged his shoulders with poise and confidence and came out of the courtroom with Environment Support Group he was representing. I had only read his books and dreamt of watching him argue; hence I was more interested in noticing him than being with my team.
No sooner than that Ganga Petition came on the roster and I saw Legendary Mr. M.C.Mehta argue for Ganga river cleanliness.
The moment he opened his file and said ‘Ganga Ji’, with water in his eyes, and fingers running through the statistics of the industries polluting it, he dipped his another hand in his pocket to take out his handkerchief in order to wipe his tears at the state of the holy river whom he finally gifted personhood.
Those moments in the courtroom decided my fate; I decided to quit my corporate job and dedicate my life, my education and every inch of my existence to the service of the Environment.
I pursued Ritwick sir for almost a month and worked as an intern in his office for two months. After my stint at his office, I attended a Wild Life Law Enforcement Workshop in Sariska National Park, Rajasthan where I realized how much work needs to be done in the forest machinery.
Within a month’s time I started to take such workshops for forest officers myself, and with every workshop, I end up learning, there is so much to do! Apart from these workshops I started taking up cases on water pollution, RTI activism, plastic and waste management, biodiversity act and did environmental consultation work.
I usually conduct small two days training program for officers usually of rangers and guard rank. The forest range officer is the officer in charge of a range, and in some states, we have beat officers’ in charge of a beat in a big forest area.
These officers have to be on their feet in order to make sure there no violation of the Wild Life Protection Act, and the Forest Act.
The first day I usually take a class on Wild Life Protection Act, and take a detailed tour inside relevant sections like ‘hunting’, ‘penalties’, ‘arrest’, ‘schedules’, ‘procedure’ etc.
The next day I teach the officers how to draft a criminal complaint known as ‘Forest Offence Report’ in detail in order to make out an effective case.
This is a part which requires rigorous training. So far I have done three workshops in three different states, and this is my ultimate realization that drafting of an FOR is an art which needs to be mastered by all forest officers.
Given the serious nature of my work, I try to keep the fun element alive and also use PPT for better understanding of the subject.
Forest officers are heroes with immense potential and courage.
They walk through the dense forests and work to protect the dignity of the green and the ones surviving inside them. It’s time we acknowledge this department and treat them with the dignity they deserve.
Becoming an Environmental Lawyer is the best decision I have made in my life. I look forward to inspire young lawyers to find their calling and then answer it with grace.
Sukriti Kashyap is a lawyer and founder of EnviroLaw collective. You can reach her on Linkedin here.
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If you want to contact Sukriti to take a workshop on environmental law, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org