Largeforest areas in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir are smouldering, billowing huge clouds of smoke which hang over jungles and nearby cities, blurring out the blazing sun overhead. The Himalayan states have suffered severe damage, worst in recent memory, even as forest employees are working non- stop, for several weeks now, to stamp out the bush fires.
“It is the longest, hottest dry spell that one can recall and it is giving us sleepless nights,” said Avtar Singh, chief HP conservator of forest (protection). Tourists driving up the hills are encountering smoke engulfed stretches of roads, threatening to almost choke up.
In HP alone 1,537 cases offorest fires have been reported nearly four times the number of fires in peak summer. The damage to the flora has been extensive with over 19,000 hectares of forest area affected in HP even as plantation worth crores has been damaged. The maximum damage to plantation has been in Shimla district where flora spread across 5,200 hectares.
In J&K, thepilgrimage to Vaishno Devi had to be suspended thrice in the past one month due to bush fires. Trikuta Hills in Reasi district is worst affected. The suffocation was unbearable, said Ajay Verma, a pilgrim from Chandigarh. The smoke enveloped the hills like a blanket and it became a nightmare for the asthmatics, said Ajay whose aged mother, Sumitra had to be hospitalised.
Forest officials said nine out of 10 wildfires are reportedly caused by some human interaction while others are caused by natural events like lightning. Though HP forest department has registered FIRs in each case, not a single person has either been detained or penalised.