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New Delhi: India witnessed a near 55% increase in forest fires in 2016, compared to the previous year, with over 24,000 such fires reported from across the country.

Union environment minister Anil Madhav Dave, while replying to a query in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, revealed that a total of 24,817 forest fires were reported across India till June compared to 15,937 forest fires in all of 2015.

The number of forest fires in 2014 and 2013 were 19,054 and 18,451, respectively.

In April-May, Uttarakhand witnessed a major forest fire with over 6,000 personnel from various state and central agencies being deployed to fight it. The government had also announced that it was working on a new system of issuing pre-fire alerts to prevent such incidents.

The Union home ministry had set up a central team of experts to visit the forest fire-affected areas in Uttarakhand and take stock of the situation and suggest appropriate measures to combat forest fires.

“The report of the central team of experts suggests that most of the forest fires are caused due to human neglect," said Dave.

He revealed that the key recommendations of the committee include wide application of forest management practices such as fire lines, controlled burning, use of fire detection systems, use of improved technology and tools to combat forest fires, strengthening mobility and communication, community outreach activities, training and capacity building, and use of space technology for early detection of forest fires.

Dave also said that the central government provided funds to states and union territories under the centrally sponsored scheme ‘Intensification of Forest Management Scheme’ (IFMS) to supplement their efforts. Nearly 166 crore has been provided under this scheme between 2013-2016 (June).

“Forest fire control and management is one of the seven components of the scheme and about one-third of the funds are spent under this component. Various measures taken by state/Union territory governments for protection of forests from fires include creation and maintenance of fire lines in forest areas, engaging fire watchers, establishing forest camps, regular patrolling by forest personnel," he added.

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