Forest Fire Prevention and Control Strategies in India
(IFFN No. 21 – September 1999,p. 100)
The Government of India and trained high Forestry personnel are taking very casually forest fires on some plea or the other. Some advance, paucity of funds, others refer to ground fires and they are of not much consequence. Even some talk of NWFP quantity and graziers set fire in expection of greener grass to graze. Very few only take forest fires as seriously as the subject calls for. This very concept goes to the forestry secretariat ultimately to the ministry. The finance minister’s allotment to the cause of forest fires suppression is misguided by the Forest Minister.
Though the Indian Forest Act makes it compulsion on all, but more pronouncedly those who receive Government emoluments / and Forest privileges / any livelihood from forests are legally bound to help foresters on duty in forest fire detection, prevention and spread of fires unchecked in view of the enormous damage caused by forest fires. To assess fire damages, Maharashtra forest researchers arrived on experiment a damage of Rs. 10,240 or roughly US$ 220 per hectare burnt, only accounting for top soil content of organic manure to the forest. In addition, loss of biodiversity and soil moisture occur. Loss of commercial value of wood is very high.
Mr. Bahugana estimates Rs. 440 Crores ($US107 million) as annual loss by way of only tangible, excluding all intangible losses.
In the case study by Srivastava from Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, the author explains that out of 28 committees, some were active, some were luke warm and a few more could not be motivated. He further observed that a participation and its impact on the prevention and control of forest fires is yet to be made.
Going back to Bahugana’s estimates that the standing timber stock in the country is estimated at 4,740 million m3 and the annual increment at 87.62 million m3 It is evident that the demands of firewood, and other daily necessities of 950 million (may have reached 1,000 million) and 450 million (may have reached 500 million) can be estimated to be much more than the annual increment estimated, meaning thereby the standing stock is annually decreasing below the figure of 4,740 million m3.
It is imperative that both the Capital stock need be increased as also the capacity it annually accrues. The first and the most important step should be: check losses due to fire by modern processes through research and intensive touring during fire seasons. The staff should be trained at the recognized fire protection institution with the help and guidance of F.A.O.
Losses due to old age and pest affected stock requires to be culled and it is possible to reduce technical/commercial rotation to that level when trees retain vigour and become strong enough to withstand decay/pests. This silvicultural compunction is overdue as is witnessed in the large scale death of sal (Shorea robusta) amongst mature. It is because of these ugly, repeated fires and pernicious grazing coupled with human free collection of headloads of firewood and unregulated tapping of NWFP without providing for any period of rest to recuperate, the site qualities have fallen down resulting in death and decay at rotation age/size a few decades earlier adopted.
The moratorium, cramped by suspending sanctioned working plans has added to the negligence towards protection and cultural operations reflected in fast decaying stock. This moratorium has no silvicultural status.
All decay owes to fires, which induce decay of stems by attacks of pests.
Moral: The Government of India, if the policy of Laissez Faire is not rejected in favour of strict protection, the country will have to face environmental disaster soon.