Absence of a Forest Rights Act and restriction of local communities of Uttarakhand from entering into the state forests are major causes of forest fire, say environment activists.
On Thursday, green activists from various organisations, including CASA-India, released a citizens’ report on forest fire in Uttarakhand.
The activists said that the incidents of forest fire has increased after the government began “disconnecting and discouraging” the local communities from forests. This reason, environmentalists say, was also one of the major reasons behind the famous Chipko movement in the hill state.
Uttarakhand is where most of the incidents of forest fire occur. In 2016, about 4,500 hectares of forest land was destroyed in 2,000 separate incidents of forest fire. Himachal Pradesh, on the other hand, lost 3,500 hectare forests to the fire in the same year.
“Government doesn’t have any policy to deal with the forest fire, there are no investigation teams to find the reasons either and there is no accountability,” said Aranya Ranjan of Uttarakhand Jan Jagriti Sansthan.
Official figures state there were 20,667 incidents of forest fire in 2016 compared to 15,937 incidents in 2015.
The Forest Survey of India (FSI) has estimated that 1.45 million hectares of forest is affected by fire annually with 6.17 per cent of the forests prone to severe fire damage.
“Earlier the forests were managed by the local hill communities and tribes in traditional ways. They use to stretch forest-lines and take pine leaves for livestock. But now, since people have been restricted from forests, incidents of forest fire have increased drastically,” Ranjan added.
He said that more forest land under Van Panchayat (a community initiative) would help curbing forest fire.
The Forest Department prepares the forest-line but mostly in the reserve forests. Forest-lines are drawn by breaking the consistency of the forest cover by chopping some trees and grasses in a mud track-like formation to avoid the fire from spreading.
The dry pine leaves also help in spreading the forests fire in hilly regions.
“Forest fire has not been considered as a natural disaster despite a large loss every year. Because of this, there are not proper efforts to prevent forest fire,” the report pointed out.
The report also stressed that the government must recognise the forest fire as a natural and national calamity.
“Market forces have been commercialising the Himalayan forests and are alienating the mountain communities from their forests springs and rivers,” said Manoj Pandey from Himalaya Seva Sangh.
Uttarakhand has about 71 per cent of total geographical area (38,139 square kilometer) under forest cover. Of this 25,863 Sq.Km is under Forest department, 4,768.70 Sq.Km under revenue department and 7,350.85 Sq.Km under Van Panchayats.