A week after more than 15,000 forest guards and foresters went on an indefinite strike over demands for a hike in their basic grade pay among others, there has finally been a breakthrough in communication between the protesters and the state. The development comes a day after several forest guards in areas like Marathwada and Vidarbha shaved their heads to catch the government's attention.
Ajay Patil, president of the Maha State Forest Guards and Promoted Foresters Union (MSFGPFU), along with a few of his delegates, was summoned on Sunday for a meeting to discuss their grievances at Mantralaya on Tuesday afternoon.
The union leaders will be meeting Praveen Pardeshi, principal secretary of the forest department, the finance secretary and the general administration department (GAD) at Mantralaya on Tuesday afternoon.
"Mr Pardeshi spoke to me this (Sunday) morning. He requested me to call off the strike, but that will continue. I will attend the meeting with my general secretary, two working presidents, and a few others. Any further decisions will be taken by us after the meeting."
Thousands of forest workers including those from Sanjay Gandhi National Park, have been protesting at their headquarters, demanding a hike in their basic grade pay, insurance, reservations for their children for forest guards posts, etc. According to Arjun Nichite, branch president
of the MSFGPFU, each forest guard has 5 to 8 villages to protect single-handedly. They prevent poaching, encroachment, tree-felling, oversee plantations and prevent any other crime in their area. For all these duties, a class 3 forest guard gets a basic grade pay of just Rs 1,800 per month. They are std 12 pass-outs.
Sudhir Phadke, the union's general secretary, said, "We also plan to discuss the issue of promotions. We are supposed to get promoted every 12 years. However, though we do get the salary hike, we do not get the next position. Many employees have remained forest guards for over 30 years."
Pardeshi replied to dna's queries via an email which said, "Yes, there is a meeting on Tuesday with the secy finance and the GAD to consider the demands of the union. Meanwhile, the file submitted to establish pay parity of guards with other staff like gram sevaks has been pursued for early decisions."