India — The Forest Minister Qazi Muhammad Afzal had to face opposition fury in state Legislative Council over rapid vandalisation of forests in Jammu and Kashmir. The opposition blamed the states Forest Department for remaining mute spectator to the wanton loot of the green gold. Expressing serious concern over fire incidents in forest-covered areas, the members in a united voice alleged that the government is misleading the House over number of fire incidents in the forests. The members alleged that either the government is ignorant of the facts of fire incidents, which engulfed forests of the state or is deliberately giving inadequate statistics in the House. MLCs Muhammad Sharief, Ashok Sharma, Muhammad Hussain Qureshi, Devender Rana and Sakina Ittoo alleged that due to the nexus of security forces, smugglers and forest officials, the green gold of the state is vanishing and the government is acting as a mute spectator. The members alleged that thousands of trees were gutted due to number of fire incidents in the recent past. They alleged that in most of the cases it appeared that after the smuggling the timber smugglers use fire as a means to suppress the loot. All these incidents are of similar nature but government is not taking cognizance, the members said. Afzal while replying to members queries said, The government has formulated a comprehensive project of Rs 29 crore to safeguard the green treasure of the state. He said that the fire incidents which occurred during the dry spell in most of the forests of the state had been dealt with affectively. However, he added that there was a shortage of human resource for protecting the green treasure effectively from the smugglers. The matter is being examined and the list of officials indulging in smuggling would be exposed and shown the door, he added. Replying to a query by Nizam-ud-Din Bhat, Minister of State for Forests G M Saroori gave details of the forest fires that took place in the state during the dry spell from September to December and the losses incurred. He said that 297 forest fire incidents have occurred in the state, which includes 158 incidents in Jammu division and 139 in Kashmir division respectively. He said that most of these fires were ground fires which damaged mostly grasses herbs and shrubs. However, in a few places these fires caused damages to standing trees as well as the fallen material. No large trees are reported to have been burnt in these incidents. However, shrubs, herbs and dry grass have been damaged in these forest fire incidents, he said and added, Two fire incidents occurred in the areas under the jurisdiction of Soil Conservation division Kupwara during November 2007. On the issue of governments action against encroachers of forest land Minister of State for Forests said that 70.05 hectares of forest land is under encroachment in compartment 137/M to 141/M of Mendhar Forest range and adjoining village Chhajala of Tehsil Mendhar. On forest clearance for Bursar Hydro electric project, he said that no committee was constituted to sort out issue of forest clearance and de-notification of some parts of Wildlife Park at Dacchan to facilitate the construction of Bursar Hydroelectric power project. However, to consider issues regarding forest clearance and de-notification of some portion of the Kishtwar High Altitude National Park which is involved in the Bursar hydro electric project, a high level meeting was chaired by the then Minister for Forests on December 2004, in which it was decided to get forest clearance expedited and to obtain approval of National Board for Wildlife to the proposed de-notification of the portion of the Kishtwar High Altitude National Park involved in the project so that the Supreme Court is subsequently approached for clearance as per its standing orders. The NHPC would get an environmental impact assessment study for the project conducted by the Centre for interdisciplinary studies on Mountain and Hill Environment Delhi University. After the EIA report is obtained. It will be furnished to the Wildlife Institute of India for their expert comments.