India — NAGPUR – Ahead of tendu tendering process that started on Monday, forests in entire state are on fire. The worst-affected is Navegaon National Park in Gondia district where around 1,500 hectares has been damaged in ground fires in the past few days. Eyewitnesses, however, say at least half the forest must have been damaged in ground fires.
“We are really perplexed. I suspect the fire may be due to tendu intensity. It will be difficult to assess the total area but I suspect around 1,500 hectares must have been damaged by unidentified miscreants. We are on trail of suspects who were seen moving on a motorcycle near the park,” said VV Gurme, conservator of forests (CF), Gondia Wildlife Division.
“The fire has engulfed centrally located Nishani hills. It is a hostile spot with lot of bamboo clusters and valleys. The fire has almost been brought under control with the help of three teams of 25 labourers each, seven air blowers and five vehicles,” Gurme told TOI.
Sources said Gurme and ACF Pramod Panchbhai were also involved in putting out fire for entire night of April 7. They said fire in Navegaon (135 sq km) is so severe it could be seen even from Navegaon canteen which is outside the park. Fire is still continuing in three to four places. The miscreants also attempted to set Navegaon Wildlife Sanctuary on fire and 26 hectares in Gondi and nine hectares in Khadki were burnt.
S S Mishra, additional principal chief conservator of forests (APCCF) for wildlife, Nagpur (East), said he was rushing to Navegaon to take stock of the situation.
Although forest fires are common in summer, their occurrence in protected areas (PAs) is a serious matter. It is one of most damaging activities for regeneration of forests and for biodiversity of the forest floor. Small mammals, insects, birds and many significant species of the fragile ecosystem fall prey to them. The fires have cast a shadow over credibility of joint forest management committees (JFMCs).
Navegaon is not an isolated case, fires have been reported in all 12 ranges of Gondia territorial division. Hundreds of hectares in these ranges have been burnt but deputy conservator of forests (DyCF) S V Ramarao says of the 1.80 lakh hectares forest in Gondia, just over 400 hectares were affected. He denied rumours that 80% area was destroyed in fires that have been going on since last month. “Even small areas look big when you see a fire, but that is no excuse. All our staff is engaged in extinguishing fires,” Ramarao told TOI. “The fires ignited at the behest of tendu contractors is an assumption and everything is done so cleverly we don’t have any evidence,” Ramarao said.
President of Gondia Beedi Leaves Contractors Association Jayesh Patel said, “Now that tendu auction has started, we are bound to be suspects but it is not true. There are many reasons for forest fires. These have been going on sporadically since January,” he said.
Meanwhile, records show that since March 1 hundreds of hectares of forest have been destroyed in ground fires. In tendu-dominated Gadchiroli and Chandrapur, 401 and 85 fire incidents were recorded respectively besides Bhandara (15), Amravati (52), Gondia (50), Thane (77) and Yavatmal (15).
What must be done?
– Watch towers at elevated points
– Employ sincere locals who know forest terrain
– Communication system should be effective
– Vehicles and ground staff should be ready
– Budget should be sanctioned in January
– Fire lines in no case should be burnt after February 15