The northern state of Uttarakhand has been battling forest fires for the past six months. After Forty-five fires spots emerged in the past 24-36 hours, taking the total fire count well above 1000, the state government headed by Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat has finally awakened from its deep slumber and turned towards the centre for help. The centre on Sunday immediately rushed two helicopters to Uttarakhand to bring the blaze under control. Rawat called an emergency meeting with the state officials to assess the state’s preparations and ways to effectively act on the forest fires.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah held talks with the state CM and assured him of full cooperation. “To take control over forest fires in Uttarakhand, the Central government has given orders to deploy NDRF teams and provide helicopters to the Uttarakhand govt,” Shah tweeted.
उत्तराखंड के जंगलों में आग के सम्बंध में मैंने प्रदेश के मुख्यमंत्री श्री @TIRATHSRAWAT से बात कर जानकारी ली।
आग पर काबू पाने और जानमाल के नुकसान को रोकने के लिए केंद्र सरकार ने तुरंत @NDRFHQ की टीमें और हेलिकॉप्टर उत्तराखंड सरकार को उपलब्ध कराने के निर्देश दे दिए हैं।
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) April 4, 2021
Forest Department data shows that 1,028 incidents of forest fire affected over 1,359 hectares since October 1, 2020 — after the rains — mainly in the districts of Nainital, Almora, Tehri Garhwal and Pauri Garhwal. According to the principal chief conservator, the fire has destroyed property worth ₹37 lakh so far, with at least five people and seven animals reported to have been killed.
“The peak time is the third week of May when the temperature is the highest. But this year, it has started from the first week of April. The Meteorological Department has predicted rain on April 6 and 7. That may bring some relief. But a further dry spell will worsen the situation,” said a forest official to The Indian Express.
Uttarkhand with 24,303 sq km (over 45 per cent of the geographical area) under forest cover is one of the most vulnerable states when it comes to most frequent forest fires annually. While the fires are still raging, the CM is more concerned about pinning the responsibility of who started the fire by attributing it to “deliberate” acts by “mischievous elements”.
The blissfully unaware CM seems oblivious to the fact that while human error is a small part of the fire, it is climate change, which in most cases is the root cause of the forest fires and is ultimately what expedites the process. It is imperative to note that during the peak forest fire period — February to June — last year, only 135 incidents took place in which 172 hectares were affected. However, the lax attitude by the government has allowed the situation to spiral out of control for the time being.
The forest fires in the Amazon rain forest and Australia in the last year serves an example that if not doused initially, these forest fires can rage for months on end and create a severe ecological disaster, especially in the sensitive mountainous region of the state. CM Rawat needs to pull up his socks and ramp up the relief measures to bring the fire under control or otherwise the forest cover, soil, tree growth, vegetation, and the overall flora and fauna of the state, all will turn into dark ash.