Monday, 20 February 2017

Uttarakhand playing with forest fire : 21 Feb 2017 The Hindu

Uttarakhand playing with forest fire : 21 Feb 2017 The Hindu

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/uttarakhand-playing-with-forest-fire/article17337055.ece

 Forest department officials meet CM Harish Rawat, discuss preparedness to tackle 2016 repeat

With summers approaching, forest fires that will last till the start of the monsoon season have begun in Uttarakhand. However, even after the massive forest fires last year, the forest department seems ill-equipped to tackle the issue.
In a meeting with Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat on Monday, the forest department discussed preparations for combating the forest fire.

Villagers to be involved

“We will be engaging with villagers to douse the fires. Also, we have decided to send fire alerts via SMS to forest guards. Earlier we sent only post-fire alerts when a fire was reported. We will now also send pre-fire alerts based on the probability of a forest to catch fire. We have collaborated with the Dehradun Meteorological Department for this,” said Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) Rajendra Mahajan.

Fresh instances

In the past few days, instances of fires have been reported from Pithoragarh district’s Munsiyari region, places in Almora, the Pindar Valley in Chamoli district, areas in Bageshwar district and the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve.
However, the nodal officer for forest fires P.S. Srivastava said: “There have been only two instances of forest fires this year where, on February 16, one hectare of forest was engulfed by the forest fire instances in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve.”
In December, last year, the Uttarakhand High Court, in an order, had stated that “disciplinary proceedings shall be initiated against them (forest officials) for not preventing, or controlling forest fires” and that if a forest fire lasted for over 72 hours then the PCCF would be “deemed to be put under suspension.”

Fires in van panchayat

Mr Mahajan said the few fires that have been reported so far were in areas that were under the van panchayat and not the forest department.
Also, Mr Mahajan said the instances of forest fires being reported by locals were not forest fires but fires from the controlled burning exercises being carried out by the forest department.
“Currently, we are undertaking pre-fire operations where we are clearing fire lines, and undertaking controlled burning,” Mr Mahajan said.

State in news

In April-May last year, the Uttarakhand fires had grabbed national headlines, with over 4,434 hectares of forests engulfed in flames. The Indian Air Force’s Mi-17 helicopters were also pulled in to help douse the fires.
The High Court had directed the forest department “to use foam and other fire retardants to control the forest fires.”
However, Mr Mahajan said, “We have limited resources here. Also, in the hills the options to douse fires are limited. We cannot use fire retardants like foam because the forest areas also have freshwater springs which are a source of water for the villagers.

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