The Supreme Court on Friday expressed serious concern about the absence of security for forest officials in the country against poachers, reported Live Law. The court urged the central government to provide weapons and bulletproof vests and vehicles to the officials after it was informed that India recorded the “greatest number of mortal fatalities” among forest officers in the world.

“It is difficult to imagine how any law can be enforced by the forest staff who are unarmed against poachers who are likely to be heavily armed”, a three-judge bench, led by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, noted.

The court voiced concern over the lack of protection for forest rangers, and asked the central and state authorities to introduce a policy that provides arms licences to forest staff. Bobde noted that the policy was required as forest rangers often deal with armed poachers, “unlike a policeman in a city, a forest ranger is in a situation where he cannot call for help”.

The court also sought a response from Centre and states on how the the forest authorities can be provided protection. “We think the situation is serious and forest guards would have difficulty in protecting vast tracts of uninhabited land,” the bench said, according to Bar and Bench.

The court noted that Assam and Maharashtra had taken steps in the matter and sought details on what other states were doing. The bench noted that Assam and Maharashtra had armed guards “who are forest officers above certain rank”. But it noted there was inequality in the protection provided to forest officials in states.

Amicus curiae ADN Rao said that states did not use funds meant for arming officials, The Hindu reported. The court then asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and advocate Shyam Divan to make a joint submission on the steps that can be adopted to protect the forest officers so they could perform their duties efficiently without fear. The case will be taken after four weeks.