Kings of forests

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in warangal, Andhra Pradesh, there is only one black Ambassador car in the official circle and it belongs to the conservator of forests. Painting the car black some 15 years ago was a conscious decision to evade attacks. The black Ambassador drives home the fear psychosis that has gripped the forest officials. “There is always a risk of an attack,” says P Raghuveer, the conservator of forests.

Nearly 10.03 million hectares (mha) of forests in the country are under the control of Naxalites (see map: Rapid red spread). Being primarily a tribal dominated areas, the presence of the armed cadres and the police have affected people’s lives. Government officials hardly venture into villages inside the forests. The result: little signs of governance. Exploiting this vacuum, poachers are on a rampage and the timber mafia is eating into the forests. Besides, the Naxalites’ campaign to grab forestland and clear them for cultivation has become a new problem for state forest departments. Says a deputy inspector-general of forests in the Union ministry of environment and forests (mef), “The encroachment has become so widespread that we had to shelve a plan to regularise encroachments prior to 1980. If we do so there will be pressures from these groups to regularise all the forests under their control.”

According to mef data, over 0.4 mha of forests in the country are under encroachment