INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY SPECIAL – ‘Believe in yourself, nothing is impossible’: Dr. Malathi Priya
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INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY SPECIAL – ‘Believe in yourself, nothing is impossible’: Dr. Malathi Priya

March 7, 2024

By Special Correspondent Shadan Muneer

In today’s world, flora and fauna have gained extra significance due to their dwindling numbers and protecting them for the next generations has become a significant task. Among the many crusaders of wildlife protection, Forest Department personnel are at the forefront.

Meet Indian Forest Service (IFS) Officer, Dr. Malathi Priya, currently serving as Conservator of Forests (CF), Mysuru Circle, since February 2022. A 2008-batch Officer, Dr. Malathi completed her post-graduation in Horticulture and obtained her Ph.D in Environmental Science from the prestigious Indian Agriculture Research Institute, New Delhi. She underwent two years of training at the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy in Dehradun and was initially posted as the Assistant Conservator of Forests at Nagarahole Tiger Reserve. She later served as the Deputy Conservator of Forests in Mangaluru, Bengaluru Rural and at the district levels of Chikkamagalur, Chamarajanagar and Ballari.

Born in Tamil Nadu, she is married to Dr. P. Ramesh Kumar, the current Director of Bandipur Tiger Reserve. This gutsy Lady Officer is also a State-level athlete and a trained Bharatanatyam dancer. She loves playing tennis with her daughter and is passionate about gardening.

No profession is gender-specific. Women have broken the glass ceiling and joined the Indian Forest Service (IFS). Many women are entering this profession and are working in forest areas, accomplishing exemplary work. — Dr. Malathi Priya

Star of Mysore (SOM): It is satisfying to see a woman take on such a high post which was traditionally considered a male bastion. How do you feel about it?

Dr. Malathi Priya: I feel proud to have reached this position where I oversee the territorial forest divisions of Mysuru, Mandya, Hunsur and also the administrative part of Bandipur. I have always been drawn to the environment and forests and my mother encouraged me to follow my dreams.

I don’t believe that any profession is gender-specific. Women have broken the glass ceiling and joined the Indian Forest Service. Many women are entering this profession and are working in forest areas, accomplishing exemplary work. From being a Forest Guard to heading a Department, they have excelled at all levels.

SOM: How do you deal with the challenges that come along with your profession? What percentage of women are employed in Mysuru Circle? Do you face any gender discrimination?

Dr. Malathi Priya: Challenges are a part of any job and we must learn to overcome them. Initially, the biggest challenge for me was the compromises I had to make to balance work and family, especially as a mother, as our job requires us to be in the field at any given hour. If there are any human-animal conflicts, I have to reach the spot, no matter how remote, to analyse the situation and come up with plans and solutions.

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 But that’s the nature of our job and we must fulfil our responsibilities regardless of the difficulties. About 17 percent of the workforce employed here are women. I have not experienced any gender discrimination throughout my career, thanks to my co-operative, supportive and encouraging colleagues and fellow officers.

SOM: Mysuru Circle has been in the spotlight for increasing human-animal conflict. How are you tackling this?

Dr. Malathi Priya: After the loss of human lives due to animal attacks in T. Narasipur taluk in 2022, we came up with the idea of forming a Special Task Force to handle wild animal attacks. As a result, the Leopard Task Force was formed in Mysuru Circle. It comprises 58 members, including Forest Officers and personnel and is equipped with an array of tools and resources to handle leopard encounters.

The Elephant Task Force controls jumbo menace and the Bandipur Tiger Reserve has erected a 110-km stretch Railway barricade to avert life-threatening incidents and protect farmers’ crops from elephant raids. Electric solar fencing and elephant-proof trenches are also in place. These special teams have been successful in managing emergencies and tracking the movement of animals.

SOM: How are people being educated to not panic and handle animal conflicts carefully?

Dr. Malathi Priya: We circulate pamphlets listing the DOs and DON’Ts with the help of Gram Panchayats (GPs) and Revenue Officers. To facilitate reporting of animal sightings and other wild incidents, we have established Helpline numbers, which guide them to deal with the situation. We conduct awareness to educate the public and farmers about cattle grazing activities. We are also considering converting ‘gomala’ lands into grasslands for cattle grazing so that farmers don’t venture into the forest area. Additionally, we organise special programmes involving youths and GP members to educate them about forest behavioural rules.

SOM: With summer setting in, the risk of forest fires looms large. How do you leverage technology and involve locals in preventing and curbing forest fires?

Dr. Malathi Priya: Forest fires are mostly man-made and occur in summer when the ground is filled with dry leaves, logs and wood. A flame, spark or friction of trees can lead to forest fires. To prevent this, we create fire lines by clearing dry produce. Also, we hire additional staff and rope in locals and tribals as Forest Watchers to avoid sparks and tackle fires.

Technologies such as drones and satellite systems are used to detect and douse fires. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to prevent fires and we seek the support of Fire and Emergency Services Department while using blowers to douse fires. Awareness drives and street plays also help educate people about forest fires.

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SOM: There is a threat to the delicate ecosystem from increased vehicular traffic, civil works and unauthorised constructions. What are your thoughts on this?

Dr. Malathi Priya: The night traffic ban, in place since 2009, helps control the movement of vehicles. Anything falling under the Eco-Sensitive Zone is monitored by the Regional Commissioner, who takes action against any illegal activities within the Reserve’s Eco-Sensitive Zone by examining prohibited activities.

Conservator of Forests Dr. Malathi Priya with husband Dr. P. Ramesh Kumar, Director of Bandipur Tiger Reserve and daughter Padmapriya.

SOM: How has the use of technology helped in curbing illegal poaching?

Dr. Malathi Priya: Camera traps laid in protected ranges to monitor wildlife also help curb poaching. The images captured aid in tracking poacher movement. Additionally, we have a separate wing and vigilance squad in each district with a proper networking system to protect wildlife. The Wildlife Protection Act aids in reducing poaching operations and punishes poachers.

SOM: How often is wildlife census conducted? How does it help in conserving wildlife?

Dr. Malathi Priya: Tiger and elephant censuses are conducted once every four years using camera traps and surveys. We conduct tiger monitoring annually as part of our internal exercise, forwarding the estimated numbers to the Tiger Cell. Given that Bandipur is in the tri-junction area, we synchronise our census pattern with neighbouring forests to ensure accurate counts. When census reports show an increase in animal population, it gives us a sense of satisfaction that wildlife conservation efforts are effective.

SOM: How do you balance your personal and professional life? What are your other interests & hobbies?

Dr. Malathi Priya: My profession is my passion and I enjoy what I’m doing. Balancing family and work becomes manageable when you know your responsibilities and are dedicated to everything you do. I’m fortunate to have supportive parents and in-laws who have been my pillars of support throughout my journey.

I also enjoy Bharatanatyam and have performed in stage shows. Gardening is another passion of mine. I have been an athlete for years and love playing tennis with my daughter, who is a national-level player.

SOM: What are your views on Women’s Day?

Dr. Malathi Priya: Every day should be Women’s Day because women work tirelessly round-the-clock, year-round. Women have an inherent ability to multi-task and it is wonderful to celebrate womanhood. Women have come a long way and nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself.

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