India — Inspired by police techniques, forest officials will now hand out rewards for secret tips on forest fires, most of which investigations say are deliberate.
While the dry grass and hot winds of summer are major factors for the outbreak and spread of forest fires, it seems that, in Pune and its surroundings, most of these are started by deliberate human intention, rather than natural forces.
According to investigations by the State Forest department, poachers and smugglers seeking animal skins, wood and other valuables they can sell, are very often the culprits behind forest fires, as are wood Taking a leaf out of police books, the department has decided to initiate a secret fund deal to resolve this problem, starting this year.
The department will give out cash prizes to anonymous informers who provide information on culprits, along with evidence. The amount will start from Rs 5,000 and will be increased as per the amount of damage sustained and the informers names will be kept secret. The principal secretary of the department forest has issued notifications to all forest offices in this regard.
Over the last one year, around 20 cases of forest fire were reported from Pune division in which over 60 hectares of land were destroyed. However, there were casualties reported in terms of wildlife or human life. The cases were reported mainly from Sinhgad, Khandala and Rajmachi.
Earlier, the Forest department managed to combat such situations with the help of village-level Forest Protection Committees, but it yielded nothing. Now, due to a staff crunch and non-availability of vehicles and fire-fighting equipment, they have appealed for cooperation from NGOs, villagers and tourists.
For the past three years the Pune division, as a precautionary measure, has demarcated fire lines in the forest area, especially around plantation done in the last five years. However, the incidents have still not been controlled.
According to forest department sources, only about 10 per cent forest fires in Pune are natural. Along with smugglers, fires are mostly caused by people believing that burning grass enhances the growth of new grass for cattle grazing, tourists who throw lit cigarettes into the forest areas.
Rajendra Kadam, deputy conservator of forests, Pune Forest Division said, The secret fund scheme will start this year and will be used exclusively to detect crimes related to forests. We are waiting for guidelines from the State to execute the fund.
Kadam added, The amount will depend on the nature and gravity of damage to wildlife and forests. Sometimes, the amount may be in percentage of the total damage of wildlife.