The Centre will study impacts of forest fires and will also outline reasons behind the unprecedented disaster that destroyed nearly 4,000 hectare forest cover across 13 districts in Uttarakhand, killing 9 people and injuring 17 others, officials said.
Forest fires between February 15 and June 15 shook the state government machinery for which help was sought from the National Disaster Mitigation Authority and the Indian Air Force. Despite being a regular phenomenon, the jungle inferno gave jitters to officials.
In order to scientifically understand the causes, extent of damage and evaluate loss of biodiversity, the Centre’s help has been sought, said state chief secretary Shatrughan Singh.
“I have requested Centre to send a team for a field visits to affected areas so that we can scientifically understand reasons behind the disaster. It will help us to remain prepared in future fire seasons,” he told Hindustan Times.
Singh highlighted another facet of forest fires, underlining the importance of soil conservation. “The soil was totally dry this season without any moisture that abetted the fires. So, we need to focus on moisture retaining techniques through soil conservation,” he said.
Dry weather, low precipitation and lack of hydration in the atmosphere were some of the reasons behind forest fires. But, forest officials largely blame it on man-made fires as a result of which 48 cases have been filed against locals who were found setting fires in the forests.
“Intentionally or unintentionally, forest fires are caused due to human activity,” said Rajinder Kumar Mahajan, head of forest force.
“Farmers set fire to their agricultural fields hoping for a better crop in the next season, people leave burning cigarette or bidi buds in fields, burning of leaf litter and pine needles to facilitate movement are some of the reasons why and how forest catches fire,” he said.
“With scientific monitoring, we hope to ascertain the reasons in more recorded format.”
Work on fire lines too will be reviewed by the central team. Fire lines are prepared in forest before fire season breaks out to counter fire incidents in the region. During December-January, nearly ‘5crore is provided to forest divisions to create fire lines. But, lack of monitoring is a concern.
Abhishekh Kumar, an environmentalist said, “Just by releasing funds for making fire lines do not help unless monitoring is done by higher officials. There should be a mechanism of rigorous monitoring of works done on the ground.”
State forest department has taken initiative to spread awareness about forest fires. But, they too lack comprehensive mechanism to educate villagers. “Preparations, if any, should be done in advance instead of the fire season,” said a senior forest official, who wished not to be named.