Uttarakhand Forest Fires destroy over 3,000 hectares of green cover, congress quick to Blame Government

1May 28, 2018, Large parts of forests in Uttarakhand are under massive fires. As temperature rise worsens the situation, the state government is feeling the heat.

According to the forest department of Uttarakhand, as per this report, 3399 hectares forest cover has been gutted in 1451 forest fire incidents this year.

Former Chief Minister of Uttarakhand Harish Rawat commented on the current government's handling of the ongoing disaster. He said, "The government has done nothing except giving political speeches. The air force has only been requested to arrive but during our tenure the air force was summoned without any delay. Therefore, the former government was more successful in tackling the fire."

Last week, Chief Minister Trivendra Rawat reprimanded the concerned forest officials. He questioned them on "unpreparedness" in dealing with the situation. Congress, as expected, has picked the issue for attacking the government.

In Garhwal, Uttarkashi, Haridwar, Tehri Garhwal, Pauri Garhwal, Chamoli and Rudraprayag are affected. In Kumaon, the forest fires have affected Nainital, Champawat, Bageshwar and Almora. According to this report, locals in Pauri Garhwal have blamed the government for inaction.

Last week, according to this report, Chief Minister Rawat had demanded "quick action" from concerned forest department officials in a video conference. “If you claim that the we are equipped to deal with the forest fires then where are the results?” the report  quoted him saying.

The situation is expected remain grim till the arrival of rainfall. Meanwhile, Trivendra Rawat government is making efforts to douse the fires.

Fires continue to rage in Uttarakhand forests; locals decry govt inaction

Forest fire has been raging in Pauri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand for five days now. Srinagar, the largest town in the Garhwal Hills, is the worst affected with fire engulfing different parts of the forest area.

While locals residing in proximity to raging forests complain of inaction on the part of the administration, the forest department and Kalagarh tiger reserve officials admit that their efforts are being hindered by insufficient resources and manpower. According to media reports, the department has admitted that it has limited vehicles and equipment necessary to tackle forest fires.

Locals have been trying to douse the flames themselves in absence of intervention from the authorities. They also complain of difficulty in breathing due to the smoke. District Commissioner Dalip Jawalkar refused to comment on the situation when Down To Earth reached out to him.

Javalkar has reportedly expressed concern over the consistent rise in forest fire incidents in Pauri district. While addressing media last week, he stressed that the forest department has to take additional efforts and prepare a plan for tackling the problem. He reportedly admitted that efforts made so to tackle the problem have not been sufficient.

Around 898 hectares of forest land has been engulfed by forest fire in Uttarakhand with 542 fire incidents reported across the hill state till April 28, according to data compiled by the forest department. While 171 fire incidents were reported in Kumaon division, 371 occurred in Garhwal division. Last year, around 1,228 hectares of forest land was gutted.

Pauri Garhwal district is home to one of the last remaining stretches of dense forests in Uttarakhand.

According to Global Forest Watch, between May 13 and 20, Pauri Garhwal district has witnessed highest number of fire alerts among all districts in the country. It is followed by Amritsar and Ludhiana districts—both in Punjab—where agricultural stubble burning has seen steady rise over the past three weeks despite awareness campaigns and punitive measures.

The forest fire season in the country is between February and June.

295 forest fire incidents in 24 hours , CM Trivendra Rawat reprimands officials for 'lack of preparedness'

Garhwal region is the worst-hit with the extent of damage being the largest in Pauri district, Chief Conservator of Forest and nodal officer for forest fires B P Gupta said.

At least 295 incidents of forest fire were reported from different parts of Uttarakhand over the last one day with the worst-hit being Garhwal region. According to PTI report, Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat reprimanded the officials concerned for their "lack of preparedness".

Garhwal region is the worst-hit with the extent of damage being the largest in Pauri district, Chief Conservator of Forest and nodal officer for forest fires B P Gupta said.

295 fresh incidents of forest fires were reported over the past 24 hours. The number of incidents which stood at 741 yesterday has mounted to 1,036 today, the official said, adding efforts are underway on a war footing to control and extinguish the fires.

There are 15-16 points mostly in Pauri district where the fire is activeand we are focusing currently on dousing them, he said.

Meanwhile, Rawat held a meeting with all the District Magistrates and forest department officers such as the DFOs and the nodal officer via video conferencing to review the situation and expressed his displeasure over their lack of preparedness to combat forest fires which occur every year.

"If you were prepared, where is the result?," he asked officials, directing them to involve locals in the fire fighting exercise and warning 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 fight forest fire.

"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 chief minister 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. He also asked districts where there are no active fires at present to be alert.  As the temperatures in Uttarakhand continue to rise, large parts of the hill state are under raging fire. By Wednesday, the area under forest fires reached 2,037.77 hectares, which is 793 hectares more than the land impacted by forest fires last year.

The state forest department, which records forest fire instances between February 15 and June 15 each year, noted a rise in the forest fire instances since Monday when the area under forest fire crossed 1,000 hectares. On Tuesday, 88 fresh forest fire incidents were noted, and the area engulfed by the fire increased to 1,213.77 hectares. On Wednesday, 295 fresh forest fire incidents were noted and the area under the fire reached 2,037.77 hectares.

On Wednesday Chief Minister Trivendra Rawat, during a video conference with the concerned forest department officials and the concerned district magistrates, demanded “quick action” to douse the fires.

The instruction from the chief minister came a day after the fire rapidly spread across the state, especially impacting the Pauri Garhwal district, which alone showed over 1,000 hectares of land under fire.

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During the video conference, Rawat questioned the officials over the “unpreparedness” to deal with the raging fires. “If you claim that the we are equipped to deal with the forest fires then where are the results?” the chief minister asked the officials.

B P Gupta, nodal officer for forest fires in the state, “The forest department and the district administration (of the concerned 12 districts) are trying to contain the fires. The Forest Survey of India (FSI) sends us satellite data on the spots of forest fires, and we send teams to douse them.”

While Gupta claimed that the state had 40 master control rooms spread across all 40 forest divisions, along with 1,437 crew stations, and 174 watch towers to report forest fires and to subsequently douse the fires with the help of local communities and the concerned agencies, the fire instances have only been increasing, and with the Dehradun Meteorological Centre forecasting that the temperatures would continue to rise till May 27 with no rainfall in the areas hit by the fires, the situation remains grim.

On Tuesday, 88 fresh forest fire incidents were noted, and the area engulfed by the fire increased to 1,213.77 hectares. (Express photo by Virender Singh Negi)

Dehradun Meteorological Centre Director Bikram Singh said to The Indian Express, “In altitudes between 2,000-2,500 metres the temperature is around 30-32 degrees Celsius, which is upto 7 degrees higher than what the temperature should have been in this season leading to a heat wave to severe heat wave situation in the hills. In the plain areas the temperature has crossed 40 degrees Celsius, which is upto 5 degrees above normal.”

In the year 2016, 4,433.75 hectares of land was engulfed by forest fires and Indian Air Force's Mi-17 helicopters were used for ferrying water to the inaccessible areas under forest fire to douse the fire.

Rain brings some relief to agencies battling forest fires in Uttarakhand

DEHRADUN: Battling forest fires for over a week, the fire-fighting crew in Uttarakhand heaved a sigh of relief on Tuesday with many places lashed by rain, which is expected to extinguish the active fires and leave enough moisture in the grass which will prevent the further occurrence of forest blazes.

"It has rained in Dehradun, Rishikesh, Chamoli, Rudraparayag and Tehri districts, bringing a much-needed relief to around 10,000 people engaged in fire-fighting operations in the state for the last several days," Chief Conservator of Forest and nodal officer for forest fires B P Gupta said.

"Rain at this time is a blessing for us as it would douse the active fires and make our task much easier," he added. Apart from dousing the active forest blazes, the showers will wet the grass and prevent the fire from spreading quickly, Gupta said. Even otherwise, the number of fire alerts has witnessed a decline over the last couple of days.

Only 11 fire alerts were received today as against 35 yesterday, Gupta said.

However, the forest fires this season, which were aggravated last week due to a dry spell, have affected a total of 4131.726 hectares of land, he said, adding that the losses due to the forest fires have run up to over Rs 80 lakh so far.

As the forest fires flared up on May 20, the forest department pressed into operation 7,616 personnel, including fire-watchers, 59 from the revenue department, 31 from the police, 18 from the SDRF and six from the NDRF, besides 2,452 locals who volunteered in different parts of the state to lend a helping hand, Gupta said.

The MeT department has predicted similar weather conditions over the next few days, which should drastically reduce the number of forest fire incidents, he added.

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