Amid lockdown, forest fires rage across Gujarat

23 April 2020

INDIA – SURAT: While the global lockdown has been good news for the wildlife including flora and fauna, making conservationists happy, it has not be so for Gujarat as intermittent forests fires continued to be a major cause of concern here.

According to the Forest Survey of India (FSI), between March 25 and April 22 this year, (the lockdown period), altogether 1,360 forest fire alerts have been issued across the state. In fact, FSI’s Forest Fire Alerts System 3.0 states that for the same period last year, the number of forest fire alerts were only 1,087 in Gujarat.

Forest officers say that almost 99 percent of the forest fires are man-made and are done intentionally by the forest dwellers or nearby residents to avenge their grudge against the forest department over strict implementations of various forest laws.

According to the forest officials, forest fire is one of the major causes of degradation of forests in many parts of the country. The FSI has been alerting the State Forest Department and other registered uses of forest fire locations detected by the MODIS sensor onboard Aqua and Terra Satellites of NASA since 2004.

From 2017, the FSI has also started disseminating alerts obtained from SNPP-VIIRS sensor, which has a better resolution (375 m X 375 m) compared to MODIS (1 km X 1 km). Alerts are disseminated up to beat level in the forest areas.

Talking to TOI, head of the Forest Forces (HoFF), D K Sharma, however, said that these small fire incidents reported from many parts of the state are harmless and everything in under control.

“There is absolutely nothing to worry as far as forest fires are concerned as adequate measures are in place,” Sharma added.
A senior forest officer said that the forest fire alerts which the department receives from the system, aren’t necessarily fire happening inside the forests.

The forest fire system keeps detecting such fires and sends alerts to the forest division concerned and after a team rushes to the spot, they find that it many a time, it is the farmers living in the fringe areas burning stubble.
“A few days ago, forest fire alert system reported a fire in Gir East division but when our staff went there, they found that fire was occurred in revenue area. In another incident, fire occurred in a farm inside the forest area and it was brought under control,” he said.

“In many cases, tribal farmers traditionally burn their stubble after harvesting crops and these farmlands are located inside the forests. Moreover, farming activity around the forests in remote villages are going on in most parts of the state. Forest fires are mostly the result of conflicts between locals living inside and around the forest areas and the forest department. The lockdown will not stop these locals from harming the forests,” another senior forest officer, who did not wish to be named, rued.

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