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With just 18 guards for 5400 ha, Maha mangrove cell requests staff of 20 from MSSC

With one forest guard per 300 hectares of mangroves in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra’s Mangrove Cell acknowledges that it needs to add more teeth to their bite. In a bid to add more numbers to the meagre force of 18 forest guards, the Mangrove Cell has Maharashtra State Security Corporation (MSSC) to depute some its officers to help beef up mangrove security.

The cell has been under acute staff crunch since its inception, State Forest Department officials claimed. The cell constitutes only about 75 personnel, who are responsible to protect, conserve and manage the state’s mangrove stretches.

Speaking to DNA, Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF) and Head of Mangrove Cell N Vasudevan said, “We have written to MSSC seeking a staff of 20, who work along with our forest guards patrolling and responding to cases of mangrove destruction. The reason we’ve approached them is because the MSSC staff is trained like police and has powers to book offences and even handle ammunition in case necessary.”

“An added strength of 20 personnel can help improve monitoring of protected mangroves and also fasten our response time to complaints,” said Vasudevan. The Payment to MSSC will be made from the budget already allocated to the cell, an official said.

In the past, there have been talks of hiring private security or homeguards. However, as they don’t have any executive powers, the ideas were shelved.

“The biggest advantage that MSSC staff can bring is that they think and act like cops. Also if anyone attacks them, which happens a lot of time during our patrols or while carrying out demolition in mangroves, the accused will be booked under Section 353 of IPC that protects government officials,” said an official from the mangrove cell.

Meanwhile, activists fighting to save mangroves continue to urge officials to improve surveillance efforts in view of increasing threat. “While lack of staff must be looked into, we have been suggesting that Mangrove Cell deploy more technology. Active resident organisations who have been fighting for mangrove protection in several areas can help the cell,” said Stalin D, a member of the State Government-appointed committee to monitor and protect wetlands