State govt turns forest fire heat on staff, says action will be taken

  • Nihi Sharma Sahani, Hindustan Times, Dehradun
  • Updated: May 25, 2015 16:12 IST

Concerned over the increasing number of forest fire in the recent months, the Uttarakhand government is considering taking action against foresters who fail to control the blaze, an official said on Sunday.

Forest minister Dinesh Agarwal said the department is taking daily status reports from forest officials on forest fire. “Action would be taken against forest field staff who fail to make serious efforts to fight and control forest fires,” Agarwal, told Hindustan Times.

He said Uttarakhand is prone to forest fires during the summer months when strong dry winds and rising temperature fuel wildfires in the state’s numerous forests. According to the state forest department, Garhwal region is the most affected with more than 43 forest fires reported since March damaging around 49.50 hectares of forest land. Kumaon region, however, reported only three incidents of forest fire for the same duration.

Forest authorities, however, have blamed the local people of igniting the fires. “Most forest fires in the state are man-made, either unintentionally caused by the casual flinging of a bidi or a cigarette butt. People also set fire to the forest to ensure growth of grass, but these blazes often spiral out of control,” said SS Sharma, principal chief conservator
of forests. “About 70% of forest fires occur due to human activities. There are strong winds and the temperature is also high that could spread flints into massive forest fires,” he added.

The forest department was taking all possible measures to safeguard forests, Sharma said. Every year, at the onset of summer months, the department conducts awareness campaigns in villages of the 35 forest divisions in the state to educate villagers about forest fires, controlling techniques and methods to avoid it, Sharma said.

“In addition, signboards and hoardings have been erected at the main roads and the highways warning tourists not to throw lighted bidis or cigarette butts on the roadside or forested areas,” he added.

Forest guards said the government does not provide any insurance or hospitalisation allowance for personnel who are injured fighting forest fires. “It is easier to take decisions (sitting) behind a desk but it’s difficult to risk one’s life trying to safeguard the forests from fires,” said RR Penuilly, general secretary of the forest guards association. “Why should we sacrifice our lives? What is the department giving us for
our bravery?”

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