HT, Kolkata, 4 May 2016: Bengal has stepped up vigil in its forests and the authorities have urged their ground staff in North Bengal and Jangalmahal areas to be cautious so that a Uttarakhand -type disaster does not occur.
“We are not taking any chances. A fresh advisory has been sent to the forest staff to remain vigilant and take precautionary measures so that fires do not break out. We don’t want a rerun of the Uttarakhand forest fire here,” said a senior official of the state forest department.
Forest fires have destroyed nearly 3,500 hectares of forests in Uttarakhand’s Pauri Garhwal, Nainital, Pithoragarh, Bageshwar and Chamoli and killed at least seven persons. The Corbett Tiger Reserve, Rajaji Tiger Reserve and Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary were affected in the fire that had been raging over the past one week.
Incidents of forest fires have also been reported from Himachal Pradesh. Firefighters have been sent to Solan, Shimla and Kullu districts.
“The ground staff has been asked to strictly maintain fire lines ( denuded patches between different forests compartments so that fire doesn’t spread beyond these lines), clear inflammable articles from near forest staff ’s quarters, reclaim and recharge the water bodies, hold meetings with villagers living in forest fringes and distribute pamphlets to make villagers aware about blazes,” said the official.
A Forest Survey of India analysis says that 90% of forest fires are created by humans, affecting around 6.77 lakh hectares of forest land every decade.
West Bengal has around 11,879 sq km of forest which accounts for nearly 13.38% of the geographical area of the state. The maximum forest area falls in the Sunderban region in South 24Parganas. The Sunderbans however is not vulnerable to fires because of its terrain.
The other four districts that have large areas of forests are Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Bankura and West Midnapore. Even though the forests of Darjeeling remain moist and those in Jalpaiguri and Jangalmahal areas are not as inflammable as those of Uttarakhand, incidents of forest fires are not uncommon in the state.
The country has a satellitebased forest fire alert system anchored at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, called the Indian Forest-Fire Response and Assessment System. The system, imported from the United States and launched in 2005, now covers most fire-prone areas. “This system sends regular updates and warnings on the possibility of fire arising at intense heat zones such as forest patches in Jangalmahal areas including Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore, where the mercury shot up to 45 degrees this summer,” said a forest official.
The state’s proposal to purchase Drones for better monitoring of forest and wildlife is also pending with the Centre. Forest officials feel once these come in the department would be better equipped.