The fight against forest fires in Uttarakhand is turning out be highly expensive as the state will have to pay Rs 85 for a litre of water dropped by two air force Mi-17 helicopters on burning forestland.
The helicopters, in operation since May 1, have dumped nearly 1.75 lakh litres of water over forests in 34 sorties till Monday. They flew 16 sorties till Tuesday afternoon.
Sources said each sortie carrying 3,500 litres of water costs about Rs 3 lakh. The aircraft draw water either from Bhimtal lake near Nainital in the Kumaon division or from the Srinagar reservoir in Garhwal.
Finance officials were concerned about the expenses. Finance secretary Amit Negi said he is expecting a bill of Rs 50 lakh or may be a little more.
The raging wildfires have reduced about 3,500 hectares of lush Himalayan forestland to ashes and claimed six lives. Many animals and nesting birds in popular wildlife habitats are feared killed too.
A spell of rain on Tuesday brought relief in parts of Dehradun, Pithoragarh, Chamoli and Nainital districts. The forecast says it will rain till May 6.
The helicopter support helped the field teams of firefighters but experts were unsure about the efficacy of sprinkling water from the sky to douse forest fires.
“The choppers fly at an altitude of 10,000-14,000 feet. Most of the water gets lost in the air and the remaining gets caught in the canopy. Practically, the water doesn’t reach the dry ground that needs hydration. So, the effort goes in vain,” said Rajinder Kumar Mahajan, head of the state forest force.