India — RANCHI: Forest fire is one major reason behind the depleting forest cover in the state, claims environmentalist and forest activist. And such fires are frequent with the onset of summer. On several occasions these fires are man-made. Activists blame the state forest department for its inaction in handling the menace while, the forest officials claim they are always on toes and well equipped to curb forest fire.
Wildfires in the forests of Hazaribagh, Jamshedpur, Palamu, Bokaro and a few other areas adding up to almost 23,605 sq km forest area of the state, often take a devastating form giving sleepless nights to the foresters.
Mostly, villagers throw biddis, cigarettes, still burning, which ignite the forest woods and dry leaves causing fire, claimed forest officials. Besides, friction is another major reason, added sources. Jharkhand accounts for a total of 29 per cent of its geographical area under forest cover. The forest fire is common in both the protected forest (81%) and the reserved forest (19%).
At eight places in the state forest fire was reported on last Wednesday itself. According to reports available with the forest department, wildfire was reported at one spot in Hazaribagh, Palamu respectively and at six places in West Singhbhum district which has several small hilly forests. Cases of major wildfires have been reported from 268 places in the state in April, this year.
A report available at the website of the Forest Survey of India says Jharkhand has reported forest fire at a total of 467 spots across various districts in the state. West Singhbhum district tops the list of districts affected by forest fires in terms of the number of such incidents and their magnitude.
Forest cover is shrinking fast in the state and the wildfire is one major reason, claimed the convener of Jharkhand Jungle Bachao Andolan (JJBA), Xavier Kujur. “The forest fire has dealt a massive blow to the forest biodiversity in the state. It is an annual phenomenon. We have raised the issue at every important platform. But nothing substantial has been done yet,” rued Kujur. JJBA officials claimed that large quantity of medicinal plants are lost in the forest fire.
The forest department, on the other hand, asserted that they are always alert in taking the right measures to curb such disasters. The principal chief conservator of forest (development), U R Biswas, said all the foresters had been intimated about it. “Immediately after we receive inputs about forest fire from the center, the officer concerned is informed and the fire is put out,” said Biswas.
A budget of Rs 3 crore has been sanctioned for dousing flames. The department has roped in hundreds of villagers across the state to deal with it. In almost all districts which frequently report forest fires, the Village Forest Management & Protection Committee (VFMPC) and in some districts Eco Development Committees are working. The department has hired fire watchers (villagers who are kept on daily wages) who work as informers for the department and join the officials in extinguishing fire.
“Our team is also working for fire line cutting by which we destroy all possible sources which act as fuel in causing fire,” said a forester. The foresters collect dry leaves and burn them in a controlled way to check forest fire.
The principal chief conservator of forest, A K Malhotra, said the forest department is well equipped to handle all such crises.