Man-made or natural? Uttarakhand fire is classic example of human encroachment on forest land

Those fighting fire in forest covers of Uttarakhand are quite amused by visuals of helicopters carrying water buckets to douse the flames. Though this innovative methodology of containing fire in forest may appear quite attractive in terms of visual appeal on TV screens, its efficacy is highly doubtful.

In fact, for the past three days since the government decided to rope in the airforce to check the spread of fire, the efficacy of choppers in such operation was discussed threadbare. At the end of it, officials of the forest department and environmentalists resisted the idea of using choppers as it was expected to fan the fire. The use of water to douse the flame in forest is hardly effective.

“This looks good visually but the real battle is at the ground where smoldering woods and dried grass stoke the fire in neigbouring regions” said an officer involved in the fire-fighting. Apparently the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) resorted to traditional methodology of beating the fire and digging trenches to prevent its spread. Since the NDRF is neither trained and nor equipped to deal with such a situation, the fire is apparently contained by volunteers, forest officials and local fire officials who have better understanding of the hilly topography and its wildlife.

NDRF officials working to extinguish the wildfire in Uttarakhand. Image courtesy: NDRF

NDRF officials working to extinguish the wildfire in Uttarakhand. Image courtesy: NDRF

Officials of the home ministry, who monitored the situation along with the state administration of Uttrakhand, however, admitted that the fire in this region has always been an annual feature. “This is the first time it caught media’s attention and also exposed our inadequacies” he pointed out. With reference to use of choppers to douse the flame, he pointed out that such a methodology was resorted to use chemical to contain fire. “Given Uttrakhand’s ecology and wildlife, it is difficult for us to use chemicals” he said.

But what seems to have caught attention of the government and environmentalists is the fact that the forest fire often reduce the space for wildlife and accentuate the man-animal conflict in the region where villages are also located. In Pauri, Garhwal and Chamoli where reserve forest is immensely rich in wildlife, including tigers and elephants, there are reports of consistent human encroachment in the forest area. Environmentalists suspect that much of the fire in the woods is deliberately stoked to shrink the forest cover and expand the human habitation.

In large areas comprising Himalyan foothills known as Terai, farmers are known for encroaching into forest areas and expanding their possession of land. Thousands of farmhouses owing large tract of land often running into hundreds of acres have come up of late adjacent to buffer zones of the forest. There are umpteen number of cases in which tigers, elphants or leopards are coming in direct conflict with the human. In Haridwar and adjoining herds of elephants are often seen blocking the highway as their habitant has shrunken due to encroachment by the human.

Environmentalists and forest officials do not rule out the possibility that frequent fires in forest covers of Uttrakhand would be linked to human greed of expanding its domain at the expense of forest cover. Officials of the home ministry say that in view of the concerns expressed by local stakeholders on destruction of forest cover, a comprehensive strategy needs to be chalked out to deal with this kind of situation. Already the NDRF chief OP Singh has written for Firstpost detailing the tough situation against which the NDRF worked in tandem to contain the fire despite all inadequacies.

Updated Date: May 03, 2016 07:38 AM

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