Even as the State Forest Department blamed tribal communities for the forest fires that raged in Nagarhole National Park and Shimoga's Shettihalli Wildlife Sanctuary, environmental groups on Tuesday held the department's unpreparedness responsible for the situation.

Several non-government organisations protested outside Aranya Bhavan demanding accountability of senior forest officials and better incentives for the frontline staff of the Forest Department.

Joseph Hoover, an environmental activist, said that forest officials had not taken precautionary measures to prevent the fire. Nagarhole has never burnt like this for 40 years, he said, adding that the fire raises several questions: Were fire lines drawn? How many fire watchers have been contracted to combat it? Are the wireless sets given to staff functional?

“We cannot blame tribal people. Forest fires are a natural phenomenon that occurs every summer.” Manjunath S.N. of ‘Into the Wild Trust' in Bandipur Wildlife Sanctuary, said that the guards, watchers and trackers – the main guardians of the forest – are demoralised and harassed by local politicians. He added that their salaries are paltry.

Representatives of organisations such as the Kenneth Anderson Nature Society, the Bangalore Nature Club and Centre for Awareness of Nature were represented.

Keywords: Forest fires

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