Forest officials say election duty may hamper fight with forest fires

Forest officials say election duty may hamper fight with forest fires

21 January 2017

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USA — Almora: Officials of the forest department in Kumaon have raised concerns that with the forest fire season starting at the same time as the state goes to polls and most of the personnel deployed on election duty, efforts to tackle blazes in the region may be hit. The forest department officials in Kumaon also said that talks are on with the state election commission to urge it to exempt the forest staff from election duty.

In 2016, more than 4,000 hectares of forest land was destroyed and seven people died in numerous fire incidents that ravaged the hill state.

M B Singh, divisional forest officer of Bageshwar district, said, “All officers in my forest circle, six rangers and all forest guards are at present on election duty. In case forest fires break out at this time, we could be in a difficult position.”

Similar concerns were raised by A K Gupta, divisional forest officer of Champawat. “The regular staff of 200 people in my forest circle is on election duty. In case forest fires erupt, we will have to free the staff from election duty and focus solely on forest fires,” he said.

“The forest fire season starts on February 15. Last year, incidents of forest fires were recorded much before that date. If this year as well, blazes occur early in the month, how will we manage?” said S R Prajapati, divisional forest officer of Almora.

Bageshwar district has already reported two incidents of forest fires since the beginning of the year. Forest fires were also reported in high altitude villages in Dharchula in November and December 2016.

Meanwhile, the forest department said that efforts are on to tackle the forest fire hazard. In Almora district, the department is roping in 3,000 firewatchers, 8 mobile fire units and 167 crew stations after February 15. In Bageshwar, 29 crew stations and mobile fire teams have been deployed.

The department is also carrying out controlled burning of dry grass and pine needles besides conducting awareness campaigns among women, van panchayats and mahila mangal dals.
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