Shocking underestimation of forest fire loss detected; who was benefiting?: parliamentary panel

Shocking underestimation of forest fire loss detected; who was benefiting?: parliamentary panel

15 January 2017

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India—  Shocking under-estimation of the loss caused by forest fires has been noticed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Forests, making it wonder ”who will be the actual beneficiary of this ”gross underestimation”.

The Government estimation in Himachal Pradesh has come to mere Rs 470 per acre and in Uttarakhand, it has come to Rs 400 per acre, which the committee has found indigestible.

It has advised the Government to rope in an independent agency having impeccable credibility to estimate the losses in real terms and property and earmark budget for compensation.

Moreover, it was also noticed by the panel that the loss of wildlife in these fires was not even accounted for and the loss of biodiversity was also grossly underestimated.

When the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) and the Botanical Survey of India(BSI) were asked whether they had conducted any post-forest fire assessment of loss of flora and fauna and whether there was any planof these organisations to prevent any loss of bio-diversity in the event of forest fires, they admitted that they had not conducted any assessment, and sought to pass the buck to the state forest department.

In Uttarakhand, forest fires in February-April last year wiped out 4,000 hectares of forest cover across 13 districts and killed nine besides injuring 17 people in addition to causing massive loss of biodiversity and forest eco-system beyond repair.

Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir were not far behind as large tracts of forests in both states were gutted.

Forest fires had seldom been as rampant and devastating in Himalayas as in 2016.

Any initiative for estimation of the loss of biodiversity was not taken up even by the Ministry of Environment.

When the committee asked about the role of National Bio-diversity Authority(NBA), the Ministry replied that that authority was an autonomous body regulatory and statutory body which regulates access to biological resources and performed only an advisory role. But the committee felt that that the NBA could still take up studies in future on the effect of natural calamities, including forest fires, and suggest remedial measures.

The Committee said that the Ministry could ask its organisations concerned to undertake on a priority basis an assessment of loss of biodiversity due to forest fires so that corrective and preventive measures could be undertaken.

It suggested that the NBA could be made a nodal agency for coordinating the efforts made by different organisations in this regard.

The committee has also noted that the Ministry had been reducing funds to the states and Union Territories under the centrally-sponsored schemes weakening their capacities for forest management.

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