Too hot to handle — alarming rise in forest fires this year

Parliamentary Standing Committee recommends a national policy on managing blazes

Updated - December 22, 2016 03:54 am IST

Published - December 22, 2016 03:53 am IST - Bengaluru:

With fires raging across Central Indian forests and the Himalayan Pine forests, the frequency of such blazes has risen by a drastic 55 per cent in the past year.

The number has touched 24,817 in 2016, a “really alarming” rise, from around 15,937 fires in 2015, says the report by Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, headed by Rajya Sabha MP Renuka Choudhary, submitted on December 16. The committee has suggested a national policy on managing forest fires.

The increase is seen even though 2015, considered a drought year, had seen a decline in frequency of forest fires of around 16 per cent.

The three central States of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh contribute a third of the forest fires. Madhya Pradesh has seen a nearly ten-fold increase, from just 294 in 2015 to more than 2,600 in 2016.

The committee was formed after a series of devastating forest fires earlier this year, including the prolonged one that charred 4,000 hectares of forest land across 13 districts of Uttarakhand.

Clearing pines to save forests

The report primarily focuses on the prevention and containing of fires in the Himalayan forests spread across Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir. In Himachal and Uttarakhand, over 17,502 acres have been ravaged this year due to forest fires — a rise of over 171 per cent.

Here, accumulated Chir pine needles — which are inflammable due to their high-resin content — are believed to be a “prominent factor in occurring and spreading of forest fires”.

The committee has recommended the procurement of sweeping machines to clear roadsides of Chir pine needles, while advocating large-scale incentives and programmes (including under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) to collect pines for use as fuel, and other incineration.

More drastically, the Uttarakhand government has suggested thinning of pine reserve forest areas to “reduce the biological load”; while the report suggests replacing these forests with “broad-leaf” plants.

The committee has also observed that a large number of posts of front line forest staff were lying vacant, while, fire-fighting equipment is rudimentary in many cases.

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