India — The death of three bus passengers on Wednesday caused by a burning tree falling on the bus near Agastyamuni in Rudraprayag district has elicited focus on two main factors.
Firstly, the Forest Department has failed to act effectively against forest fires due to increasing cases of fires lit intentionally by locals and secondly, apart from local residents and environment, forest fires could also cause inconvenience or even pose a threat to visitors especially those undertaking the Char Dham Yatra. Now, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, RBS Rawat has decided to order department officials to arrest anyone found setting the forests on fire.
The incident on Wednesday was the first of its kind but since the start of the forest fire season many Forest Department staff have been injured and one woman from a village in the mountainous region died while fighting a forest fire.
Talking to The Pioneer, the PCCF said that so far 1080 hectares of forest lands have been affected by 680 incidents of forest fires.
Referring to the accidental death of three bus passengers, he said that necessary action could be taken if the Border Roads Organisation and Public Works Department mark trees which have become dangerous for road users after geting burnt. “With its present resources, the department is capable of tackling accidental fires but many of the fires are intentionally lit by villagers in the belief that it will encourage better growth of fodder. Generally people light such fires after sunset when it becomes very difficult to reach the site and extinguish the fire in mountainous regions.”
Rawat further added that he had not held meetings in Dehradun during the past three months so that divisional officers could remain present in their respective divisions and ensure effective action against forest fires. “We have been raising public awareness through various mediums, appealing to the public to desist from starting forest fires and a letter was also issued through the Chief Secretary to all District Magistrates on this issue. However, considering the continuing cases of forest fires started intentionally by humans, I will issue stern instructions to department officers telling them to immediately arrest anyone found lighting the forests which is a violation of various acts including Wildlife Protection Act, Biodiversity Conservation Act and Forest Conservation Act among others.” The department is also strengthening its information network by encouraging the public to inform officials about anyone intentionally setting fire to the forest, added Rawat.