Pradhan urges Union forest minister to call urgent meet on Odisha forest fires
Odisha, which has reported 35 % of total forest fires in the country, has lost 4,000 hectares of forest area in the last four months due to forest fire
With 35 % of total forest fires in the country being reported from Odisha alone, Union education and skill development minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Monday urged Union forest and environment minister Bhupender Yadav to launch urgent measures for containing and subduing the forest fires in the state.
In a letter to Yadav, Pradhan said Odisha, his home state, has lost 4,000 hectares of forest area in the last four months due to forest fire. “In the last 24 hours, at least 1,625 incidences of forest fires have been reported in the state. As on today, there are 1,840 cases of forest fires in Odisha, out of which 153 are large scale fires. Reportedly, 35% of all forest fires in the country are being reported from Odisha,” Pradhan said.
He said a prolonged dry spell since October 2022 and accumulation of inflammable materials such as dry leaves across the forests in Odisha has led to large scale forest fires across the state. “Forest fires continue to rage in Odisha after the state recorded 642 large fire incidents from March 2-9, the highest in the country during the period as per Forest Survey of India (FSI) data.
Odisha has recorded 871 large forest fires since November 1, 2022, the beginning of the forest fire seasons. This is also a national record for the season. “While the dreadful memories of 2021 Forest Fires (a total of 51.968 forest fire incidents in the state, majorly in Simlipal National Park in Mayurbhanj) are still fresh, it is believed that without swift action forest fires incidents in 2023 would cross the 2021 levels,” he said.
Pradhan said as forest fires are not just causing irreparable damage to the land’s flora and fauna but also destroying the livelihoods of tribals who depend on minor forest produces (MFPs) such as timber, mahua flowers, kendu leaves, and medicinal plants, there is an urgent need to assess the damage to forest land, flora and fauna, as well as communities dependent on forests for their livelihood and take suitable remedial action.
He alleged that though the forest and fire department have been provided with equipment to deal with forest fires, most of the ground staff have not received training on their usage. Helicopters and airborne methods for dousing the forest fires needs to be deployed in some parts as most of these forest areas are still inaccessible to people on ground.
He urged Yadav to convene a meeting of officials of the Union forest and environment ministry and state forest department for launching urgent measures to contain and subdue the forest fires in Odisha. Pradhan also urged Yadav to set up an empowered committee with representatives from the central and state forest department officials, environmentalists, and forest conservationists for coming up with a detailed long-term action plan for preventing and mitigating future forest fires in Odisha.
Principal chief conservator of forests Devidutta Biswal said the forest fires are mostly due to poachers setting fire to dry leaves on forest floor that would help them hunt animals like wild boars. “On Sunday, our staff caught a poacher while he was trying to set fire to forests in Kandhamal district. We have announced cash reward of ₹5,000-10,000 for information on anyone setting fire to forest,” he said.