Pradhan seeks Centre’s urgent intervention to contain forest fires in Odisha

In the last 24 hours, 1,625 incidents of forest fires have been reported in Odisha, constituting 35% of all forest fires in the country, says Union Education Minister 

March 14, 2023 09:43 am | Updated 09:43 am IST - BHUBANESWAR

A Sabuja Bahini member tries to douse a burning patch of forest near Similipal biosphere, Odisha. File photo

A Sabuja Bahini member tries to douse a burning patch of forest near Similipal biosphere, Odisha. File photo | Photo Credit: BISWARANJAN ROUT

Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Monday, March 13, 2023, urged Union Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Bhupendra Yadav to set up an empowered committee for the formulation of a detailed long-term action plan to prevent forest fires in Odisha.

Mr. Pradhan shot off the letter in wake of forest fires exceeding the number of those recorded in other States this year.

He also sought Mr. Yadav’s personal intervention in convening a meeting between the Ministry’s officials and the State government officials for launching urgent measures to contain the fires.

“We need to assess the damage to forest land, flora and fauna, as well as communities dependent on forests for their livelihood and take suitable remedial and reparative actions in this regard,” Mr. Pradhan emphasised.

“Odisha has 51,619 sq km of forest cover, with a significant portion categorised as ‘extremely fire-prone’, ‘very highly fire-prone’, ‘highly fire-prone’ and ‘moderately fire-prone. This includes the Similipal National Park, India’s seventh largest national park, which is home to several endangered species,” he said in the letter.

Dry spell since October

Stating that a prolonged dry spell since October 2022 and accumulation of inflammable materials such as dry leaves across the forests had led to large scale forest fires, the Education Minister said, “forest fires continue to rage in Odisha after the State recorded 642 large fire incidents from March 2-9, 2023, the highest in the country during the period. According to the Forest Survey of India (FSI) data, on March 9, the eastern State recorded 96 major fires in different jungles — also the highest in the country. From all the other States combined, 189 active fire incidents were reported the same day.”

“Odisha had recorded 871 large forest fires since November 1, 2022, the beginning of the forest fire seasons. This is also a national record for the season. It was followed by Andhra Pradesh (754). Karnataka (642), Telangana (447) and Madhya Pradesh (316),” he pointed out.

“As on today, there are 1,840 cases of forest fires in Odisha, out of which 153 are large scale fires. It is pertinent to note that in last 24 hours, a massive 1,625 incidents of forest fires have been reported in the State. Reportedly, 35% of all forest fires in the country are being reported from Odisha. In the last four months, Odisha has reportedly lost 4,000 hectares of forest area due to forest fire,” Mr. Pradhan said in the letter.

The Union Education Minister said if this year’s trend of forest fire was analysed, the 2023 season might cross the level of 2021 when forest fire incidences had evoked massive public outrage.

“Such forest fires not only cause irreparable damage to the land’s flora and fauna but also pose a threat to tribal and farming communities living on the periphery of forests. It destroys their livelihoods earned from minor forest produces such as timber, mahua flowers, kendu leaves, and medicinal plants. Furthermore, it contributes to severe air pollution over urban dwellings and rising temperatures in the State,” he said.

“It is imperative to address these ongoing forest fires immediately with swift and coordinated action between the Central and State Forest departments while coming up with a long-term plan for prevention and mitigation of further forest fires in Odisha. Involvement of the local community and rejuvenating the existing water bodies inside the forests to control the fires may please be stressed in the mitigation strategies,” Mr. Pradhan emphasised.

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