The Maharashtra forest department has proposed a wireless communication project for its frontline staff to enhance connectivity across Mumbai, Thane and Palghar forest areas.
The move is intended to help monitor wildlife movement better and strengthen control of forest patches within the103 sq km Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Mumbai, the 85.7 sq km Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary (TWLS) in Thane and Palghar districts, and improve supervision across fragmented forest patches leading up to the 304.81 sq km Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary in Thane district.
According to the forest department’s plan, network stations (small control rooms) will be built at the highest point (altitude) mostly atop hills in Yeoor area of SGNP and near Tungar Phata in TWLS. They will be connected to the primary control room at the SGNP, Borivali office. Additionally, every beat officer and forest guard would be equipped with hand-held wireless handsets.
The project is likely to be executed within the next six months, said Sunil Limaye, additional principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife-west). “The idea is to have one integrated system to connect each and every part of the national park which is currently inaccessible or does not have a mobile network. A survey is currently underway to determine the cost of the project and quantity of wireless devices required,” he said.
Currently, a conventional system using mobile phones are used by the department to communicate and coordinate cases of wildlife crime, tree felling, encroachment, setting up of illicit alcohol breweries as well as control attacks on frontline officers inside forests but owing to negligible network inside forest ranges, the deployment of support staff or other provisions swiftly across problem areas leads to operation inefficiencies, said forest officers.
“There have been several issues in protection due to the present system (using mobile phones) and there is a need to strengthen it,” said G Mallikarjun, chief conservator of forest, SGNP.
“Similar to the joint communication (JC) strategy implemented by the Mumbai police, our attempt is also to relay information and data on wildlife movement, status of water bodies, poaching incidents etc. not just within forest ranges in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region but connect to the Tansa valley landscape for overall corridor connectivity,” he said.
All major tiger reserves in Maharashtra as well as Tansa and Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuaries already have the wireless communication project in place.
“In some cases in SGNP and TWLS, forest officers have to rush from the scene of the incident to find a major road to find a network for reporting details. There have been isolated incidents of attacks on forest officers over the years as well, and this system will help increase their safety,” said Limaye.
In May, the forest department began an exercise to monitor forest areas using drones in TWLS. The project is yet to be replicated across SGNP and peripheral areas. During the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, over 1,500 litres of illegally produced alcohol in barrels and units were destroyed in Yeoor range and destruction of close to 45 encroachments (illegal shanties) was carried out across SGNP-TWLS, the forest department said.
According to environment group Vanashakti, petitioners in wildlife and habitat protection around SGNP before the Bombay High Court, close to 100 acres of forest patches within SGNP (Mumbai region) fell prey to encroachments, tree felling and other environment violations between March and June.
“This system will bolster forest monitoring and empower frontline staff to keep poachers out. The lack of connectivity is being used to kill wildlife and destroy the habitat at the moment. This will clearly help eliminate such major issues,” said Stalin, director, Vanashakti.