India — PANAJI: Forest areas in Socorro and Salvador do Mundo marked as ‘Ecologically Sensitive Areas (Eco-2)’ in the Regional Plan 2021 have come under attack over the last three days with unknown persons setting on fire thousands of square metres of land demarcated as ‘natural cover’.
The first incident took place on Saturday, when a hill in Maina-Socorro, was set on fire by unknown persons. The incident came to light only by late Saturday evening, when a resident of the area was passing by, and she alerted the fire brigade.
Two fire tenders, from the Pilerne and Panaji fire stations, respectively, rushed to the site. The area being densely-wooded proved to be an obstacle for firefighting operations at night. But firemen, undaunted by the obstacles, made their way uphill and put off most of the fires. Some passersby told the locals that a man was seen that afternoon lighting a fire in a plot situated adjacent to the Maina chapel. This plot was purchased a few years ago by a Porvorim resident.
The fire spread to the nearby plots, and, by night, had covered almost 15,000 sq m of the hill. Locals tried to inquire with the Porvorim resident on Sunday morning, but their efforts to contact him were futile.
Although a formal police complaint was not lodged, the Porvorim police were informed about the incident and a police jeep visited the site on Sunday morning. Fires continued to rage up on the hill on Sunday morning with locals carrying pots of water uphill to douse the flames.
On Monday evening, locals spotted smoke emanating from the hill and rushed to the site again. A bamboo plantation had been set on fire, while trees around the area were also charred. On making inquiries, locals learnt that the plot was owned by a resident who lived nearby, and informed him about the fire.
When contacted, Savio Herman D’Souza, a comunidade activist and resident of Maina-Socorro told TOI that the locals fear the hand of real estate land sharks behind the incidents. “Why would anybody want to set fire to trees in a wooded area? With land now getting scarce in Goa, we fear that builders have now eyed these areas and such forests are destroyed by fire to enable the land to be marked as settlement zone,” said D’Souza.
Although the hill in Maina is geographically a part of Socorro, the land has been marked as a border area of the neighbouring village of Salvador do Mundo. A look at the area’s map on the RP 2021 for Salvador do Mundo reveals that the spots where the fires were lit on Monday evening, have been marked as ‘Settlement Zone’. This is although, the area has a tree cover and is contiguous to areas categorized as ‘Natural Cover’ and ‘No-Development Slopes’ as shown in the RP 2021.
As per RP 2021, forest areas and also orchard land have been termed as ‘Natural Cover’. This is due to the non-conclusion of the exercise to identify private forests. As per the old toposheet, the land use was detailed as orchard, forest or agriculture. The burnt patches are not far away from some parcels of land on the Socorro plateau identified as ‘Private Forests’. The process of identifying more areas is still in progress.