India – DEHRADUN: Comptroller and Auditor General of India audited forest fire related records during the period 2013 to 2016 and found serious lapses . The report says that the department lacked sufficient funds for preventing and controlling forest fires which translated into shortages of essential fire-fighting equipment, vehicles, communications as well as manpower. Shortages of equipment, accessories and vehicles required for fire-fighting in the fire season ranged from 31 to 100 per cent while shortage of manpower ranged from 16 to 55 per cent in cadres of foresters and forest guards.
Equipment when purchased was received late in the forest divisions. Maintenance of records of occurrence of forest fires and the response times achieved which are essential for both assessing the efficacy of the systems in place as well as to plan future requirements was inadequate and both long term and short term measures required for fire management were not taken.
Despite the increasing incidence of forest fires in the State, adequate attention was not placed on measures to prevent their occurrence. Poor budgetary support translated into shortages of essential fire-fighting equipment, vehicles, communications as well as manpower. Maintenance of records of occurrence of forest fires and the response times achieved which are essential for both assessing the efficacy of the systems in place as well as to plan future requirements was inadequate and both long term and short term measures required for fire management were not taken. All these factors compounded the increase in number and intensity of incidents of forest fires.
Rajender Mahajan, head of forest force said, “There was meagre budgetary support to tackle forest fire. Just five crore in year 2015 and, during massive forest fire of 2016, it was Rs 22 crore. It was on the direction of high court to depute 10,000 personal and allocate Rs 600 crore , we placed demand of Rs 446 crore before the state government but were sanctioned merely Rs 22 crore. It is next to impossible to depute manpower, purchase equipment, maintain fire lines or hire people for controlled burning. However we are hopeful that with World Bank expressing its willingness to support us in this regard, we will be able to do concrete in this direction.”
The audit report also points out that environment ministry had directed in October 2005 that each forest division should prepare an action plan and conduct a full scale mock drill each year and forward a report of observed strength and weaknesses of the plan to the District and State Crisis Groups respectively. Audit found that no such mock drills were conducted in the test-checked divisions. Equipment were purchased either during or after the expiry of the season.
It further mentions that besides, fire watchers, the temporary daily laborers engaged for keeping watch on the incidents of fire and helping in the efforts of extinguishing fire, were short by 20 per cent to 86 per cent in the test-checked divisions. No specific training was provided to this staff for preventing and tackling forest fires. Scrutiny of records of sampled divisions revealed that no new fire lines had been created during 2013-14 to 2015-16.. However, existing fire lines were being maintained as part of regular maintenance. No budget had been provided for construction of catchments / water storage structures during the years . Controlled burning regulates fire in forest areas by removal of litter on the forest floor and also of other combustible material. It was noticed that there was no budgetary support for this activity during 2013-14 to 2015-16. It was this litter, particularly of pine trees, that contributed maximum to incidence of forest fires.