They are moths pushed to the flame.
The 6,000-strong forest department personnel deployed to beat back forest fires are going about their job without fire suits, medicines, extinguishers and water. And the casualty so far is: three dead and 14 burnt.
Forester (Gohri range)Ramesh Kothiyal said, “The department is giving us away as fire offerings”. He added: “We don’t have fire-fighting uniforms that could save us from blaze.”
Over 2,900 hectares of forest have been gutted in a reported 1,323 fire incidents. Garhwal is the worst hit region with 1,200 hectares burnt, followed by 1,100 hectares in Kumaon.
The department has a corpus of Rs 8 lakh from the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) and state government and has sought Rs 79 crore from the Centre to buy water tankers and fire fighting equipment as well as for two choppers for aerial monitoring.
However, no steps have been taken to provide fire suits and insurance to the personnel.
“We haven’t provided fire-fighting uniform to the personnel. However, we are seeking funds to provide them salaries and other infrastructure,” principal chief conservator of forest (planning and finance) Jai Raj said.
Field workers believe the number of injured persons is much higher as officials aren’t keen to report accidents suffered by staff.
“Every day, at least one of our staff or a daily wager gets injured in the forest fire. But officers aren’t reporting it... I feel the human rights commission should charge the officials for their careless attitude towards the personnel,” forest guards’ association general secretary RR Painuly told HT.
“The department is so aggressive to save green cover that they have made no emergency preparations for us. We move around the forest without medicines and even drinking water,” said MS Negi from Chamoli.