For nearly three months, Uttarakhand has been witnessing unprecedented forest fires as the temperature continues to rise. With recent instances of massive fires being reported from Almora and Nainital, this time most hill districts including Tehri and Pauri have come under the grip of raging fires.
The forest fire season which usually starts from February was reported in January this year when the northern state remains snow-capped in several parts. Visuals from Nainital showed forest fires creating havoc on Friday night, with fire spreading near residential areas.
Taking cognizance of the disaster, Home Minister Amit Shah on Sunday said that he had a conversation with CM Tirath Singh Rawat. “In order to control the fire and to reduce the loss, the Central government has alerted the National Disaster Response Force and ordered that helicopters be made available to the state government,” he tweeted.
उत्तराखंड के जंगलों में आग के सम्बंध में मैंने प्रदेश के मुख्यमंत्री श्री @TIRATHSRAWAT से बात कर जानकारी ली।आग पर काबू पाने और जानमाल के नुकसान को रोकने के लिए केंद्र सरकार ने तुरंत @NDRFHQ की टीमें और हेलिकॉप्टर उत्तराखंड सरकार को उपलब्ध कराने के निर्देश दे दिए हैं।
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) April 4, 2021
Earlier, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat had ordered to take steps to stop the forest fires in the state, he called for a robust mechanism and adequate arrangements to deal with the disaster. However, as the mitigation work is still underway, CM Rawat has called an emergency meeting to discuss the prevention plan amid the rising number of forest fire incidents.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat has called an emergency meeting over the forest fire incidents in the state: Uttarakhand Chief Minister's Office(file photo) pic.twitter.com/2ftu1Er6gc
— ANI (@ANI) April 4, 2021
Reports said that in 2020 the state had reported very few cases of forest fires. However, there has been a massive increase in the number of fire instances in 2021.
Shailesh Kumar, Disaster Management Officer in Nainital said, “According to the data available till yesterday, in Nainital district, 75 fire incidents in forest areas. The total affected areas in the district are 78.59 hectares. In two other incidents in the civil areas, 2.50 hectares have been affected.”
“The forest fire season starts from February, but this year it started early from January. There were dry winters following which a few incidents were reported in January. And after a fire is reported, control measures are taken by the team of firefighters in the affected areas,” he added.
Meanwhile, state officials on the condition of anonymity said that there were very few incidents of forest fire last year and this year it has increased tremendously. Attributing the increasing incidents of fires to man-made activities, officials added that the villagers are responsible for fires like these as they get the feed for their cattle using these fires.
“In more than 90 percent of the cases, forest fires are man-made like encroachment, for fodder or tourist activities. There are some natural factors too which have led to the increase in the number of forest fires like extreme weather conditions,” Dr Satendra, International Disaster Risk Reduction Expert and member of the National Institute of Disaster Management said.
“Earlier, the forest department used to take routine measures to prevent forest fire. But due to Covid-19 it is likely that the routine work like forest line clearance and regular preventive measures were disrupted during the pandemic,” HE added.
As per a forest Survey report, the North-eastern region and the Garhwal are prone areas in the country. News18 earlier reported, how India witnessed three major forest fires has in the last three months across the country, affecting huge tracts of forest and raising larger ecological concerns.
In March, a massive forest fire ripped through the Simlipal National Park in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district raising concerns for the ecology in the region. Similarly, in January, Kullu in Himachal Pradesh raged for days before being brought under control. Forest fires were also reported in Shimla and other parts of the state. Similar incidents were also reported in Dzukou Valley on Nagaland-Manipur borders in January this year.
Fires affected 172 hectares of forests in the last year, which was 2,981 hectares in 2019- the corresponding figure was 4,480 hectares in 2018, 1,228 hectares in 2017, 4,433 hectares in 2016 and 701 hectares in 2015. Uttarakhand has lost over 4,000 hectares of the forest ecosystem to 765 wildfires in the past six months alone, a report in the New Indian Express said. Experts also point out that institutional failure has accelerated the mitigation of forest fire cases.
“There used to be a forest-fire division in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change which was discontinued later. It used to have an air operation wing which was also discontinued. It used to have an airplane and a helicopter for dousing the fire. It was an important agency in forest fire management but it was discontinued,” Dr. Satendra said.