India — Forest fires continue to reduce the green cover at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park with an alarming nine blazes sweeping through separate locations on Wednesday night itself.
Officials said about two acres of tree-covered forest were destroyed that night, which amounts to around 8,000 square metres of land, or the approximate size of an international football field.
The destruction didn’t stop there. On Thursday two more fires were reported, this time at the western side of the park. Wednesday’s fires were towards the east. Environmentalists said that this was probably the first time that such a large number of fires were reported in the park within 24 hours.A troubling fact is that the forest department has 122 guards and 100-plus labourers patrolling the park to fight exactly this menace. After another blaze as recently as Monday evening, park director and conservator P N Munde had said that the guards are deployed every year before the summer to protect the green lung.
While forest officials confirmed all the latest fires, they did not give a reason, saying that investigations were on. Other sources ruled out the onset of summer, saying that dry leaves help spread a fire but don’t start it. However, both forest officials and environmentalists said that the fires could have been started by locals who want to clear forest land for private purposes, like agriculture.
Borivli national park forest officials said they would also be assessing the damage caused by the recent fires.Environmentalists pointed out that the damage was not only to flora but also fauna which, aside from dying or becoming injured, lose habitat and sources of food. The worst hit would be the smaller species, like insects, birds, reptiles and even amphibians. “Forest fires cause havoc to a wildlife habitat and also significantly impacts forest regeneration,” said Krishna Tiwari, project officer, city forest, Bombay Natural History Society.
“If such fires continue to take place in the national park, the wildlife in the green lung will face greater difficulty when it comes to survival,” said Rahul Chowhan, researcher and environment educator with a Thane-based organization. “The forest department must become more vigilant against such fires.”
On Wednesday, some of the burning areas included forest cover behind the Heritage Hotel, near the Blue Roof Club, behind Chena Village, at Manpada, Nagla Block and spots along Ghodbunder Road. When TOI visited the park at around 11:30 pm, all nine fires were still burning. Thursday’s fires were near Fountain Hotel on Ghodbunder Road and Dara’s Hotel in Kashimira.
A range forest officer said, “As per our primary estimates, at least two acres of forest land were affected due to Wednesday’s fires. However, we are still in the process of mapping the exact area affected. A majority of the fires that take place in the park are knowingly caused by the locals to claim more land. Since the park is covered with dry leaves, the fires spread easily.”
Over 25 fires last year, 16 already in 2011
In 2010, more than 25 fires were reported in the Borivli national park. Some of the areas affected included Chena Gaon, Kajupada, Manpada, Yeoor and Nagla Block amongst others. On March 29, 2010 a major fire had broken out in the Yeoor forest area, alarming residents of Manpada who live on the periphery of the national park. The fire damaged a major area near the Thane Municipal Garden, the forest boundary at Neelkanth Woods and Chena Village before the Thane fire brigade could reach the site and douse it.This year, there have already been 16 fires since January. Five fires have been reported at places like Kavesar, Manpada, MamaBhanja Hills and Ghodbunder Road. Nine fires broke out on March 9 and another 2 on March 10.