India NAINITAL: Taking exceptionally strict stand on a petition related to rampant forest fires in summers of 2016 in the hill state of Uttarakhand, the high court on Monday ordered the suspension and initiation of disciplinary proceedings against the state forest chief if the forest fire continues for more than 72 hours.
Earlier, in April, this year, the HC took cognizance of rampant forest fires treating the cases of wild fire in the state of Uttarakhand as PIL. Responding to the court’s direction, in May this year, the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) in an affidavit to the Uttarakhand high court mentioned that a total of 922 incidents of forest fires had occurred in Uttarakhand destroying 1890, 79 hectares till April 29 this year. The fires had resulted in losses to the tune of Rs 18,01,695, the affidavit said.
The order of division bench of justices Rajiv Sharma and Alok Singh dated December 19, 2016 stated, “Lastly, if forest fire continues for more than 72 hours, principal chief conservator of forest shall be deemed to be put under suspension and disciplinary proceedings shall be initiated against him for not preventing/ controlling forest fires.”
The order stated that if the forest fire continues for more than 24 hours, the concerned divisional forest officer shall be deemed to be put under suspension and further if it continues for more than 48 hours, the conservator of forest shall be deemed to be put under suspension.
The central government has also been directed “to formulate National Forest Policy aiming on forest management, conservation and sustainable development also to maintain and increase forest covers and notify the same within a period of six months as per preamble and guidelines framed by United Nations Conference on Environment and Development also called Rio de Janeiro Declaration/ Earth Summit/Forest Principles” adding that the National Forest policy must integrate with other economic policies.
During the proceedings of the petition in last few months, the Amicus Curie advocate Rajiv Bisht had submitted that “more than 16000 hectare of forest land has been encroached by the Gujjar community” responding to which the HC ordered that the Gujjars who have encroached upon the forest land be evicted within a period of one year from today.
State Government is directed to appoint at least 10,000 fire watchers in order to detect and contain the forest fire at the earliest during summer season.Number of fire towers should be increased.
Further directions by the HC included to constitute a committee comprising of the head of Forest Research Institute, Dehradun and principal secretary, Forest, State of Uttarakhand within three weeks to save many endangered species of plants including Aconitum heterophyllum (Aconites, Indian Atees), Dactylorhiza hatagirea (Panchaule), Alpinia galangal , Coptis teeta (Golden thread root), Nardostachys grandiflora (Muskroot), Podophyllum hexandrum (Himalayan May Apple), Panax pseudo-ginseng (Himalayan ginseng), Picrorhiza kurrooa (Kutki), Dioscorea deltoidea (Nepal Yam), Angelica glauca (Smooth Angelica), Allium stracheyi (Jambu), and many others.
Various other directions to combat forest fires in the hill state included-providing of “sufficient funds to prevent and control the forest fires” in all the coming financial years, to dig sufficient water bodies in the forest areas to control forest fires and maintain the moisture in environment, cadre of forest officers working in the field be increased at least by 30%, to provide fire fighting tools including fire proof clothing and machinery to the forest officials, latest monitoring equipment, inclusion of local people to control forest fires by constituting the ‘Fire Protection Groups’, maintenance and cleaning of ‘Forest fire range’ properly every three months, undertaking the detailed geological, ecological and botanical survey in the entire state within a period of one year, to fix pre-warning alerts system, increment in numbers of personnel of SDRF and NDRF deployed during fire months i.e. May, June & July in order to prevent and control forest fire and that the state government must ensure that all the developers maintain at least 20% greenery in housing developing projects.