Forest streams and water sources are quickly drying up

The Kozhikode Divisional Forest Office (DFO) has raised a red alert on the probability of forest fires owing to severe drought-like conditions here.

The district has a total forest area of 305.6251 square km spread across Kuttiadi, Thamarassery and Peruvannamazhi located in Vadakara, Kozhikode and Koyilandy taluks, respectively.

In a letter to the Chief Forest Conservator, North Kerala, Kannur, the office said forest streams and other water sources were quickly drying up due to the severe drought conditions this year.

Bamboo forests

Due to this, parched bushes, bamboo forests and grass lands here were sitting ducks for forest fires this summer.

The letter, dated February 4, 2013, was in response to a series of questions posed in the Legislative Assembly on whether drought conditions this year would trigger forest fires, and what steps the forest department had taken taken to prevent and control such occurrences.

They had also asked about the amount spent on special programmes in connection with forest fires during this financial year.

To the poser about the preventive measures, the DFO’s response was clichéd at best, containing the usual steps such as building a protective fire line after identifying high-risk forest areas, employing fire protection mazdoors on daily wages, and using Vana Samrakshana Samithis on the field.

Awareness classes

The DFO’s response also mentioned the ongoing awareness classes for people living in forest borders, school students and other. Besides this, it said notices on forest fire preventive and safety measures had been distributed along with frequent “mike announcements”.

“Over and above the use of traditional fire-fighting mechanisms, modern fire-fighting equipments has been accessed from 2011-12. Besides this, steps have been taken for daily monitoring of forest fire prevention at the range and division levels,” the DFO said.

To the Assembly’s question about the amount used up for forest fire protection work, the reply simply said that work was being done in a “time-bound and vigilant manner”.

Fund not enough

But sources in the DFO said that fund allocation for fighting forest fire was not enough. Only Rs.2.75 lakh was allocated under the head “fire protection” in 2012-13 for Kozhikode division during this financial year.

This was followed by another Rs.1 lakh allocated under the head ‘Regeneration of degraded forests’; Rs.3 lakh under the head ‘Participatory Forest Management’; and Rs.5 lakh allowed as per the recommendations of the 13{+t}{+h}Finance Commission to strengthen fire fighting.

Besides this, Rs.50,000 was allotted for “mobile fire gangs”, while Rs.20,000 was set aside for conducting the awareness classes for people living near forest areas.

Fire line

But DFO sources said Rs.1.5 lakh was allocated for creating the protective fire line. Protection mazdoors had been hired for a daily wages of Rs.290 a day as “watchers”.

They said forest fire prevention mechanism was kick-started on January 15 itself.

Fine and imprisonment

Causing forest fires would attract imprisonment from one to five years and a fine ranging from Rs.1,000 to Rs.5,000 under the Kerala Forest Act .

The penalty under the Wildlife Protection Act would be three years’ imprisonment and a fine up to Rs.25,000.

About 50 hectares of forest land was destroyed by fire in the Kozhikode division in 2011.

In 2012, three instances of fire had claimed 1.25 hectares of forest land.

  • District has a forest area of 305.6251 square km

  • DFO responds to questions raised in Assembly