New Delhi: A parliamentary panel has suggested a slew of measures to limit forest fires and asked the environment ministry to set up dedicated toll-free telephone numbers in each state for reporting incidents of forest fires.
Massive forest fires in Uttarakhand affected huge tracts of forest this year. As per official records, until 31 May, 2,060 incidents of forest fire were reported across the state, affecting more than 4,400 hectares. Seven people lost their lives and 31 were injured in the fires, apart from the loss of seven domestic animals.
“There should also be a dedicated toll-free number for reporting incidents of forest fire in each state," noted the parliamentary standing committee on science & technology, environment & forests in its report ‘Forest fires and its effect on environment, forests, biodiversity and wildlife and remedial/preventive measures’ released last week.
It recommended the use of corporate social responsibility funds for creating awareness campaigns on forest fires.
It observed that a large number of posts of front-line forest staff were lying vacant and expressed doubt about the preparedness of state forest departments to combat fires.
The panel said agencies such as the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) should be deployed in fighting forest fires only on rare occasions. “In fact, state governments should be asked to train their fire brigade staff to fight forest fires as they will be in a better position to deal with them," the committee noted.
It recommended that environment ministry organize training of fire brigade officers of all states on a priority basis and equip them with forest fire equipment so that in the event of forest fires they do not have to depend on outside agencies like NDRF that have enough duties to perform at the national level.
The panel also pointed out that the creation of ponds and other water harvesting structures within the forest area would not only reduce river bank erosion but could be a handy tool for supply of water to douse forest fires.
“This would not only reduce dependence on helicopters for supply of water but also readily provide water to the locals within the forest area for fire fighting," said the committee. It recommended that state governments reinvigorate the system of ponds and checkdams within forest areas.
“This would also save crucial time which is wasted in bringing water from other far-off resources," it added.
The committee agreed with the view expressed by civil society that the impact of forest fires on biodiversity is grossly underestimated and the loss of wildlife not even accounted for.
“The Committee is at (a) loss to understand as to why the Zoological Survey of India and Botanical Survey of India, which are also the arms of the ministry of environment, forest & climate change (MoEFCC), did not take up any studies on loss of biodiversity of the forest fire affected areas," it said.
“The Committee hopes that in future, the ministry would take a more proactive approach in this regard and recommends that MoEFCC should ask its concerned organisations to undertake, on priority basis, assessment of loss of biodiversity due to forest fires and devise plans to prevent loss of bio-diversity in the event of forest fires so that corrective and preventive measures in this regard could be initiated at the earliest," the panel said.