Dehradun, Apr 12 (ILNS) The Uttarakhand High Court today pulled up the state government for the devastation caused by the forest fires raging in the hill state and directed it to take urgent steps for filling up vacancies in the Forest department, besides equipping the State Disaster Response Force with gadgets to fight these fires.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma, while taking suo motu cognisance in the matter of ‘Protection of forest area, forest wealth and wildlife due to devastation from the extensive forest fires in the state of Uttarakhand, fixed the next hearing in the matter on May 12.
The state, especially the Forest department, should ensure that 65 percent vacancies in the cadre of Forest Guard are filled up within a period of six months. Moreover, the 82 percent vacancies that exist in the cadre of Assistant Conservator of Forest should equally be filled up expeditiously within a period of six months, said the Bench.
Likewise, the vacancies existing in the cadre of Ranger should be filled up as expeditiously as possible, preferably within a period of six months. Moreover, the Forest Department should have the necessary equipments and the physical infrastructure.
The Court further told the state government to consider the possibility of equipping the State Disaster Response Force with all the necessary gadgets and equipment, necessary for fighting the forest fires.
The state should also deliberate whether it can equip the State Disaster Response Force with Helicopters and with other aerial equipment, which will permit the State Disaster Response Force to effectively deal with the forest fires. For, it is a common knowledge that once forest fires blaze out of control, it is easier to control the same from the air, than from the land, noted the Bench.
It said the state should also consider the possibility of creating artificial rain by cloud-seeding. Of course, this will have to be balanced with the distinct possibility that too much rain may also lead to landslides, a phenomena to which the State is prone to.
Rajiv Bhartari, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Department of Forest, informed the court that annually from March till June, the state is prone to forest fires. So far, 52 incidents have occurred, ranging from Nainital to Champawat to Udham Singh Nagar districts. Between October, 2020 till March, 2021, there have been about 852 incidents of forest fires, which have adversely affected 1012 hectares of land, he added.
Mr Bhartari said there is a three-pronged strategy, which is utilised for dealing with forest fires. Firstly, preventive, such as clearing fire lines; secondly, detection, and thirdly, the control of fire, once it begins to rage through the forest. In order to deal with the raging fire, the department has fire-rakes and fire-beaters, and it also uses a technique called ‘counter-fire’.
According to him, the Forest department has a large number of vacancies. The sanctioned strength of forest guards is 3650, out of which there is a vacancy of 2098. Thus, there is a vacancy of 65 percent of the staff. Similarly, there is 82 percent vacancies in the cadre of Assistant Conservators of Forest. Likewise, on the post of rangers, the sanctioned strength is 308, and the working strength is 237.
According to Bhartari, in 2016, the Forest department had formulated a “Crisis Management Plan’. Despite the best efforts of the Forest department to implement the same, due to shortage of funds and staff, the Forest department is not in a position to implement the plan in toto.
Mr Bhartari further submitted that although presently, the forest fire raging in the districts of Nainital, Champawat and Udham Singh Nagar is out of control, but the Department hopes to control the fire within a period of two weeks.
But simultaneously, he submitted that since most of the forest fires are ignited by the people, the possibility of fresh forest fire incidents occurring either in Kumaun area or in Garhwal area, cannot be ruled out.
The Counsel for the petitioner submitted that in the order related to the case between the Protection of Forests, Environment, Ecology and WildLife from the Forest Fire vs the Union of India and others, dated December 19, 2016, this court had issued a large number of guidelines. However, in the court order dated March 27, 2017, the said guidelines have been stayed by the Supreme Court, the Counsel added.
Ankit Shah, the Counsel further submitted that while dealing with forest fires, which rage through the mountains of the state, perhaps the state should also consider the possibility of creating artificial rain, so as to douse the forest fires.
Moreover, since the occurrence of forest fires is an annual feature, perhaps the State should also consider equipping the State Disaster Response Force with sufficient equipment, including aerial equipment for dealing with the forest fires. ILNS/AP/SNG/RJ