India: To improve the quality of vigilance, the Kolhapur forest division is preparing digitized maps of every beat. Around 60 forest guards are being equipped with GPS and cameras to record their forest visits. The work is 80% complete and the first trial run will be conducted within a fortnight. The map will also keep a check on forest guards.
Clement Ben, field director of Sahyadri Tiger Reserve and chief conservator of forests (Kolhapur division), said, "The biggest challenge that the forest officials faced earlier was non-availability of any mechanism to cross-check the statements and reports of forest guards. The data provided by these field officers were misguiding sometimes. They either made mistakes while reporting or provided wrong information purposefully. Now, the GPS technology, cameras and wireless sharing of data will keep a check on their movements."
A geographical area is divided into beats, where the forest guards are expected to make routine visits as per the forest department's instructions and carry GPS-enabled devices to mark their digital track. The guards are supposed to take photographs if they notice something important such as spotting an animal, secondary evidence like scats, hair, pug marks, scratching on trees, a particular bird, plants and/or any damage.
They can also record the coordinates on the device, along with brief information on what exactly they noticed. The guards are expected to spend five days on the beat. On the sixth day of the duty, the device has to be returned to the forest office, which transfers the data into the system.
"The number of notifications a guard has generated will be linked with his specified route, already fed to the system. It will not only record his five-day long route, but also check whether he has followed it as specified or not. The use of technology will bring more parity, accuracy and details about the forest area and its diversity," Ben said.
Earlier, beats were formed as per the geographical conditions. Now, the forest department has divided the beats into 2×2 sq km areas, where each grid will have at least two cameras with night vision. The cameras have already been providing huge data on animal movement, its behaviour, pray pattern and trespassing. The photographs are an additional proof of guards information as well as the record of happenings in their absence.
"We have used Google Earth for taking printouts of a particular forest area and imposed the beat map on them. We will hand over such booklets to our guards. It will be an in-depth informative booklet. The guards can study it in their free time. It will enhance their performance as well as accuracy in reporting," Ben said. He added that he has sought high-definition images from the National Remote Sensing Agency, which will increase the quality of booklets.
On January 31, forest officials spotted a tiger in the Radhanagari wildlife sanctuary. The camera traps deployed on the route had gone missing because of which there was no official proof of the animal, barring pugmarks and scats. "We have also decided to hold the guards responsible for the protection of cameras. Someone should be held accountable for such loss as these are very costly cameras and play a crucial role in gathering evidences," Ben added.