Landmines explode, hamper efforts to put out spreading LoC forest fires

Landmines explode, hamper efforts to put out spreading LoC forest fires

9 July 2009

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India —

Landmines laid decades ago on both sides of the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir — a sign of the India-Pakistan tension — are proving to be the biggest hindrance in controlling a forest fire that broke out in PoK a few days ago and has now spread to this side of the border.

The fire was first reported on the Indian side at Chakkan Da Bagh in Poonch district on Tuesday. “In view of the presence of minefields on both sides of the LoC at Chakkan Da Bagh, one cannot carry on the fire fighting operations effectively,” said Chief Conservator of Forests, Jammu, Abhay Kumar. Since Tuesday, a number of landmines laid along the LoC have exploded because of the fire, causing panic among people living in nearby villages.

A spokesman for the Defence Ministry, Lt Colonel Biplab Nath, said on Wednesday that “just a few mines exploded in the fire which has now been brought under control”.

Forest officials, however, said it was too early to say that the fire, confined to the forests on the plains on the riverside, is no longer a threat. “Though it (fire) has been brought under control, its embers still remain there and with strong winds, these can spread over to the hilly forests any time,” a senior forest official said. The official added that “one cannot predict anything about forest fires”.

Since April this year, nearly 600 incidents of forest fire including small ones have been reported across Jammu region, mostly in Rajouri and Poonch districts, reducing to ashes forests spread over nearly 2,200 hectares.

“Most of the forest fires have taken place in Nowshera and Rajouri,” Abhay Kumar said, adding that they mostly started in PoK. However, owing to the continued dry spell, several forest fires also orginated locally, he added, attributing these incidents to the existence of highly inflammatory pine forests on both sides of the LoC.

Officials said another major hindrance for the Forest Department in checking these fires is lack of funds. To check fire incidents in forests spread over an area of 12,000 sq km, the department has been allocated a grant of only Rs 5 lakh this year against its projected requirement of Rs 1.40 crore.

Last year, during the district development board meeting chaired by the then chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, the department was asked to project its requirement for equipping its staff to effectively fight forest fires. Though the latter responded, very little came from the government.

Forest fires also figured at a recent review meeting held by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. Appreciating its efforts in checking forest fires, he too has asked the department to submit a proposal enlisting its requirements to the government.

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