As forests burn, Uttarakhand CM fumes
With fires burning down more than 2074 hectares of forest until Wednesday and with environmentalists questioning the efficacy of the state government in fighting the blaze, Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat came down heavily on forest officials reprimanding them for “lack of preparedness”dehradun Updated: May 23, 2018 21:44 IST
With fires burning down more than 2074 hectares of forest until Wednesday and with environmentalists questioning the efficacy of the state government in fighting the blaze, Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat came down heavily on forest officials reprimanding them for “lack of preparedness”.
“If you were prepared, where is the result?,” Rawat asked.
He was reviewing the preparedness to fight forest fires over video conferencing. All the district magistrates and forest department officials including DFOs and the nodal officer for forest fire, BP Gupta, were part of the meeting.
Directing the officials to involve locals in the fire fighting exercise, he warned the DMs that they would be held accountable for the incidents in their area.
Rawat also expressed unhappiness over the release of only 50 per cent of a total budget of Rs 12.37 crore to combat forest fires. “Forest fire is raging now, for when are you keeping the money?” he asked officials and instructed them to release the remaining amount without any delay to the districts.
The CM asked the DMs to fully utilise Rs 5 crore fund given to each of them for disaster management. “Forest fires are not a problem of the forest department only. The problem should be fought collectively with inter-departmental coordination and officials should not wait for the rains to do their work,” he said.
He also suggested that the performance appraisal report of the divisional forest officers must also include steps taken by them to control forest fire incidents and their result.
Meanwhile, as per the forest officials, 1032 fire incidents have been reported so far gutting 2074 hectare of vegetation. Four cattle were charred to death in Garhwal divison and a forest department official suffered injuries while dousing fire in Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary.
On Tuesday, the fire reached a government school building in Kandoliya area of Pauri district. Smoke filled the classrooms even as teachers evacuated all 650 students safely.
Garhwal remains the worst-hit with the extent of damage being the largest in Pauri district, Gupta said, adding efforts were underway on a war footing to control and extinguish the fires.
The department has engaged 3,953 fire watchers, with nearly 60% of them being engaged in the last week following increase in temperature, sources in the department familiar with the development said.
In February, when the fire season began, the head of forest force (HoFF) Jai Raj had instructed not to engage watchers “unnecessarily”. HT was first to report in April 20 how, to reduce the financial burden on this count, the officials have been trying to ‘employ (fire watchers) as per the need’ strategy. This came after the department spent Rs 17 crore on employing 7,117 fire watchers last year. Each fire watcher received Rs 6,500 per month. Fired had damaged 1,245 hecatre forests last year.
In 2016, when the wildfires gutted 4434 hectare forest, 6,000 daily wagers were engaged.
The practices of hiring watchers in one go for four months is abolished, as per officers. “Why to employ watchers when we don’t need them. During the initial months of February-March, we didn’t require watchers. Now, when the fire season is at its peak we are hiring them,” Jai Raj said.
This year the rates have been revised and each watcher will be paid Rs7,000 per month. “Last year, we could not utilize the strength we hired. It was sheer waste of resources,” he added.
Apart from daily wagers, members of State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), police and others are also engaged in firefighting.