Illegal grazing has caused fire in forest

22 April 2020

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INDIA –  Fire has been raging in the hills near Megamalai Wildlife Sanctuary since the end of February.

There have been 13 incidents of fire till date, said wildlife warden Sachin Bhosale. Top officials have attributed illegal grazing of cattle to most of the fire.

Three major fires took place in the summer of 2020. Each lasted for four days. There were 10 other relatively small incidents. All except two were caused by illegal grazing of cattle, says a senior official of the forest department.

This season, fire has been spreading predominantly at Gudalur, parts of Cumbum, Chinnamanur, Bommarajapuram, Varushanad and Gandamanur. A total of 22 beats out of 54 in various ranges have been declared as fire sensitive areas.

Commercial cattle grazing is illegal and it is prohibited under the Wildlife Protection Act and the Forest Act inside the sanctuary. Grazers have been prohibited from entering fire sensitive zones. They can get passes to graze their cattle in reserved forest limits bordering the sanctuary. But most of them infiltrate the sanctuary through the reserved forest and flout rules, source says.

There have been many cases where rearers with 400 cattle use forest land and destroy it. They set fire believing that grass will grow quickly if it is destroyed. This uncontrolled setting of fire causes damage to the forest. It destroys all growing shoots and damages trees.

The forest department has issued a total of 2,500 passes with a cut-off of 10 passes for each major cattle-rearer who operates near the sanctuary. It has not stopped illegal entry. On Monday, P. Lakshmanan, 36, and S. Ramasamy, 48, who rear 200 cattle each, have been remanded.

“We have conducted meetings to discuss the issue with these people. But, no consensus has been reached. The forest belongs to tribes who live in it and should not be exploited by others,” the source says.

A. Suresh Kumar, secretary, Colonel John Pennycuick Parambariys Malai Madu Valarpor Sangam, says that most rearers have traditionally grazed their cattle in the forest. ‘We have a right to the forest area. We haven’t set fire as it is important for our livelihood,’ he says.

The last major forest fire was at Rasingapuram in Theni district on March 24. It claimed the lives of four individuals including a one-year-old girl child.

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