8,000 forest fires in Chhattisgarh in 45 days, mostly in Maoist-affected areas
The Chhattisgarh forest ground staff have been on strike since March 22 which has resulted in the forest fire situation getting out of control. Fires in protected areas indicate the active presence of poachers and hunters there.
RAIPUR: With mercury rising, several forest areas in Chhattisgarh, especially in the Maoist infested zones, are under the grip of forest fires that started in mid-February spiraling to several new areas, officials familiar with the matter said.
According to the Chhattisgarh forest department, 8,022 forest fires have been reported in the last 45 days covering 16.87 square kilometer area. Normally, fire incidents between February 15 and June 15 are recorded in Chhattisgarh every year.
Forest department officials said a ‘fire watcher’ has been appointed for each beat of a forest range to contain the fire incidents.
“About 4,000 fire watchers have been deployed in different areas of Chhattisgarh. Fire lines have been cut and cleared in forest areas to check the spread of fire. We are also using modern fire-fighting equipment such as fire blowers,” said a senior forest official.
Forest officials termed most of fire incidents as minor ‘surface fire’ as experts said there could be adverse ecological consequences of these fires and described the situation as “bad”.
“Most of these fire incidents are ‘surface fires’ and doused within an hour. The worst affected are Bijapur, Narayanpur and parts of Surguja division. The satellite system which alerts us for any fire incident in the jungle is very sensitive hence it alerts us even for small fire incidents,” said OP Yadav, principal chief conservator of Forests (Protection).
He said that villagers are sensitised to not resort to fire burning for mahua and other minor forest produce collection.
It is worth mentioning that the forest ground staff have been on strike since March 22 which has resulted in the situation getting out of control, officials said. The strike was called over salary, pension, promotion and other issues.
“Forest ground staff (beat guard, forester, deputy ranger) strike has made the task of firefighting a little difficult but range officers, sub-divisional forest officers and divisional forest officers have been actively doing the firefighting work with the help of fire watchers and local villagers. Overall situation is under control,” said Rakesh Chaturvedi, Chhattisgarh’s principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) adding most of the demands of the ground staffers are being considered and the strike will end soon.
According to Forest Survey of India, 211 major forest fires have been reported from across India with, most reported from Madhya Pradesh, followed by Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.
Activists said that most of these fires were reported in protected areas, indicating that poachers and hunters are active in these areas.
“Hunters used to burn forests in order to push the wild animals into a corner of the jungle. Chhattisgarh forest department should be more active in the jungle since the forest fire season continues till June,” said Amlendu Mishra, member of the State Wildlife Advisory Board.
Experts said that forest fire plays havoc to biodiversity, richness of forest and regeneration potential.
“The forest fires also damage the shoots, medicinal plants and rare species of plants, thus endangering the biodiversity of the local area. The forests in Chhattisgarh are so rich in biodiversity that forests in every division are remarkably varied in flora. Also, the fire in the forest dry out the moisture contains in the soil, which helps retaining greenery and micro-organisms, which make forests beautiful, green and receptacle for next monsoon rains,” said Vijendra Ajanabi, an activist working for Chhattisgarh Vandhikar Manch.
“The forest department is not prepared for managing forest fires, which is now an annual disaster due to climate change. They failed in timely allocation of funds, mapping the potential fire sites, and their communication, GPS-based imagery and warning system. Unfortunately, fires in the forest have so far not been treated as “natural disaster”. Thus, the role of state disaster management authority (SDMA) is not questioned. Once it becomes a multi-department action, it can be handled efficiently with advance planning and adequate budget availability,” Ajnabi said.
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