The intense heat wave sweeping across north India has fuelled more forest fires in Uttarakhand, despite the state forest department’s claim of controlling all such fires.
On Wednesday, over 50 forest fire incidents were reported in the state, destroying 103 hectares of green cover. The Pauri division alone recorded 19 incidents in which 41 hectares of forest was gutted, followed by 11 incidents in Tehri where 19-hectare area was burnt to ashes.
Forest fires were also reported from Uttarkashi, Dehradun, Almora, Bageshwar, Haridwar and Nainital.
The hill state is witnessing unusually high day temperatures this year, with many areas recording temperatures I the range of 35-40 degrees Celsius.
“We have managed to control forest fires in the state. I have asked divisional forest officers and conservators to prepare an estimation of loss of flora and fauna due to the blazing fires,” forest minister Dinesh Agarwal said on Wednesday.
Through video conferencing, he directed police and district administrations along with forest officers to monitor fire incidents.
However, he insisted, there is a difference between forest fires and other fires, and the department should not be blamed for all the fires.
He said a fire that broke out in Rajaji National Park on Tuesday was caused by a short-circuit in power lines. In this regard, the forest department has penalised Power Transmission Corporation of Uttarakhand Limited (PITCUL), the minister said.
The department, which currently has 3,500 wireless sets, is procuring 1,000 more sets for better communication on the ground during fire incidents, Rajinder Kumar Mahajan, head of forest force (HoFF), said.
Acknowledging the work of a private company in Tehri that is collecting pine needles and sending it to Meerut to prepare bio briquettes, the forest minister said the royalty charged by the government would be relaxed if more companies are interested in such work.
Bio briquettes are an alternative source of firewood that could reduce dependency of villagers on forests.
The government charges 10 paise per kilogramme as royalty on the companies collecting and using pine needles for commercial purpose.
However, the main concern for such companies is transportation of collected material and lack of market in Uttarakhand.
“We can also relax transit permissions, but we cannot offer transportation facility and market for the briquettes,” the minister said when questioned on the issue.
He said the proposal for large scale felling of Pine trees in high altitude areas is with the centre government for consideration.