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Most forest fire incidents in Maharashtra are man made, say environmentalists

The country recorded 35,888 forest fire incidents this year, almost twice as much as 2014, when 19,054 cases were recorded.

mumbai Updated: Dec 27, 2017 11:44 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,news,forest fires
(HT File photo for representation)

The number of forest fires in Maharashtra jumped five-fold in three years, with 3,487 incidents reported in 2017, compared to 702 in 2014. While environmentalists said that most fires are deliberate, the forest department said that there was no cause for alarm as the figures could indicate better surveillance and reporting of fires.

The country recorded 35,888 forest fire incidents this year, almost twice as much as 2014, when 19,054 cases were recorded. The data was submitted by Mahesh Sharma, minister of state, Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to the Lok Sabha last week.

Forests in Melghat in Amravati district, Chandrapur, Gadchiroli and Gondia were among the areas that reported maximum number of fire incidents. While in some cases, forest fires are caused owing to natural conditions and can have benefits like rejuvenation of forest undergrowth and replenishing of soil nutrients, man made fires can have an adverse affect on plant and animal life.

Maharashtra ranked fourth in the number of forest fire incidents after Madhya Pradesh (4,781 cases), Odisha (4,416 cases), and Chhattisgarh (4,373 cases). Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Tripura and Uttarakhand, have reported a decline in forest fire incidents over the period.

Sharma told the house in a written statement that financial assistance provided to states under the centre’s ‘Intensification of Forest Management Scheme’ was revised and replaced with a centrally sponsored ‘Forest Fire Prevention and Management Scheme’ to focus mainly on controlling forest fires. “The Ministry, states, and union territories, has prepared a crisis management plan (CMP) to deal with forest fires effectively with less response time in coordination with stakeholders,” he said in the statement, adding that the CMPs are periodically updated to minimise response time.

Officials from the forest department said they would not be able to estimate the extent of forests affected by fires. “It would not be right to give a rough estimation, as the overall data needs to be studied, and maps developed to check affected areas. However, regular monitoring of these areas is being carried out and the fire line being checked,” said P Srivastava, additional principal chief conservator of forest, for information technology and policy, state forest department.

Meanwhile, a study by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Indian Institute of Space Sciences, from earlier this year, said that forest fires were reported in 18,128 locations in the state between 2006 and 2015, while India recorded 2.28 lakh forest fires during the same period.

Environmentalists said majority of the forest fires are man made. In Mumbai, a recent forest fire incident was reported from behind Nagri Nivara Raheja IT Park in Dindoshi, Goregaon, at the edge of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park on December 8 and 9. “These fires are being set off purposely by local developers to clear large tracts of land for construction purposes,” said Stalin D, director, NGO Vanashakti. “The fire is the best way to destroy the fresh saplings that are sprouting. Even after the fire was reported, the fire brigade did not intervene.”

First Published: Dec 27, 2017 11:44 IST