India More than six months after Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh witnessed massive forest fires, neither the Union Environment Ministry nor the two state governments have estimated the loss of wildlife due to the fires, a report by the parliamentary panel on environment and forests has said. The report also said that the state governments have grossly underestimated the monetary loss due to the fires. It also recommends that the environment ministry devise a national policy to prevent and mitigate forest fires.
Earlier this year in Uttarakhand, fires affected 4,000 hectares of forest land across 13 districts, killing nine and injuring 17. April and May saw some of the worst instances of these fires as needles of Chir Pine, that are prone to fires, aggravated the situation.
While examining the subject, the parliamentary panel was informed that the state forest departments are still assessing loss to wildlife and their habitat. The panel said, committee is at loss to understand why Zoological Survey of India and Botanical Survey of India, which are also arms of the MoEF did not take up any studies on loss of biodiversity of the forest fire affected areas. Even the MoEF&CC (Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change) did not take any initiative in this regard.
Forest fires in India are mainly ground fires and affect the understory plants and shrubs that provide food and forage. This loss often results in wildlife moving away to areas where food, water and shelter are available. Fire can cause temporary loss of food and shelter and animal populations may shift to adjacent unburned areas, the report added.
The panel also noted that both hill states recorded a significant rise in forest fires. Compared to 672 fires in 2015, Himachal recorded 1545 instances of fires this summer that affected 13,000 hectares causing an estimated loss of Rs 1.53 crore. In Uttarakhand, 2074 instances of fires were recorded as opposed to 412 in 2015. These fires affected 4433 hectares with an estimated loss of Rs 46.5 lakh.