Forest authorities find themselves caught between the devil and deep blue sea

Forest authorities find themselves caught between the devil and deep blue sea

20 Deceember 2016

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India —    DEHRADUN: The Dehradun High Court has directed the forest department to take up number of steps to contain forest fire and also warned for suspension of top officials of various levels for fire continuation starting from 24 hours to 72 hours.

This year in summer, when the unprecedented fire season gutted more than 4500 hectare forest, the state government had also come under the scanner for not releasing the pre-fire budget sought by the forest department in the winter season. Early preparations would have helped in minimizing the magnitude of fire. However no lessons seem to have been learnt as no pre-fire budget has been released so far .

Principal chief conservator of forests, Rajendra Mahajan told TOI that they are “helpless” to take action on their own in this regard because despite their proposal to the state government two months back seeking budgetary provision of Rs 25 crore for pre-fire and fire arrangements, not a single penny has been disbursed to them. “What we will do without money and manpower. We have received no funds for preparation of fire season till now. Out of Rs 25 crore, ten crore was to be utilized for clearance of chir pine leaves, cleaning of fire lines, conducting controlled burning, paying to the vast battery of labours, essential purchase and repair of fire equipment, dresses and, vehicles etc,. But we are still waiting for funds to carry out these chores” he said.

Some 4,500 old fire lines, the stretches in the forest which are kept devoid of any vegetation to stop fire from spreading from one forest to the contiguous one, have not been maintained for years together. “Usually the pre-fire budget for this provision is released during April-May when the forest start catching fire and, there is no time left for maintaining the fire lines. The fund should ideally be sanctioned and disbursed by the month of December only,” said Mahajan.

HC also directed to increase the cadre of forest officers working in field by at least 30%. In reality, there are large number of vacancies pending from bottom upwards in the department . According to Manish Mullick, human-resource development official in forest department, some 800 positions of forest guards are still lying vacant. A new batch of 26 range officers are undergoing training, still many ranges have no officials.
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