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Bandipur forest fire stoked by bureaucratic friction, inaction

For the fourth day in a row, the dry deciduous forests of Bandipur were up in flames, destroying an estimated 3,000 hectares of forests that are home to tigers, leopards, civets, sambar deer and four-horned antelopes among other animals.

india Updated: Feb 25, 2019 23:24 IST
Sibi Arasu and Jayashree Nandi
Sibi Arasu and Jayashree Nandi
Bengaluru/New Delhi
inaction,offcials,bandipur
Bandipur: Rescue officials assist in extinguishing a forest fire at Bandipur Tiger Reserve, in Bandipur.(PTI)

Inaction by local officials is likely to have contributed to the worsening of forest fires that broke out in Karnataka’s Bandipur last week, environmentalists and forest officials say, raising alarm over the damage that may have thus been done to the plant and animal life that includes some endangered species.

For the fourth day in a row, the dry deciduous forests of Bandipur were up in flames, destroying an estimated 3,000 hectares of forests that are home to tigers, leopards, civets, sambar deer and four-horned antelopes among other animals.

“In the last few weeks, there have been many small fires in the Kundhkere range, this major fire too started from there,” said Joseph Hoover, a Bengaluru-based wildlife activist.

“If they had been better prepared, they could have killed the fire there instead of letting it spread as much as it has,” said Hoover. According to Hoover, fire lines should have been ready and fire-watchers hired on time for a season marked by warm and dry winds: conditions that are known to be essential factors in starting and fanning forest fires. “Their inaction has now led to this large-scale ecological damage. We are concerned that other regions like Nagarhole might suffer a similar fate soon,” he added. States forest officials say in addition to the weather, the fire may have been caused by “miscreants” who deliberately started a blaze after not being hired as fire-spotters.

A fire guard earns Rs 320 per day and each range hires at least 10 of them, making it a critical source of income for many in the region.

Officials at the Forest Survey of India, an agency under the Union government, said automated alerts about the outbreak had been sent out at 2.20pm on Friday from a system that uses satellite information to identify ground fires. “Controlling the fire is the state’s responsibility. We cannot interfere in how they control fire. They must have received an alert from FSI,”said Siddhanta Das, director general, forests, ministry of environment. “We are also monitoring the situation and are in touch with the forest department. But we don’t have resources to control fire,” said Das,

The principal chief conservator of forests of Karnataka, P Sridhar, said the alerts would not have been timely as the conditions fanned the fire too quickly. “FSI alerts go directly down to the local officers and those officers immediately act on it. Here the situation has been that even when officers reach a fire spot on time, unfavourable conditions prevented them from dousing the flames.

Dry grass combined with strong winds makes it difficult for us to contain it within an area. Once it spreads to nearby zones, it becomes very difficult to contain,” he said.

On Monday, the fire, according to Forest Survey of India’s monitoring (FSI’s), had spread to adjoining Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu, while it had reduced in intensity in Bandipur Tiger Reserve.

In addition to Bandipur and Mudumalai reserve fires, several other forests across three states reported outbreaks.

In Karnataka, these were Nandi Hills, Chikmagalur, Biligiriranga Hills, Shivamoga and Nagarhole Tiger reserve.

In Tamil Nadu, Yercaud Hills in Salem district was affected as were three forest divisions in nearby Wayanad wildlife sanctuary in Kerala.

Karnataka forest officials said on Monday that containing the blaze was still a challenge, even as air force choppers airdropped water brought in from farther away places.

“Every morning, the flames look under control only to rise up again later in the day. We are hoping to get the situation under control soon,” added Sridhar.

On Monday, officials managed to douse flames in the GS Betta range. Over 300 volunteers from local communities assisted in fire-fighting efforts.

First Published: Feb 25, 2019 23:24 IST