SHIMLA, June 28: Unusually hot and dry conditions this summer have turned the green hills of Himachal Pradesh into a tinderbox - literally. Forest wealth estimated at well over Rs 2 crore spread over 20,000 hectares has been destroyed in forest fires in just two months this year.
A forest department official said the prolonged dry spell, particularly in the mid and low hills, has led to widespread forest fires. Now, the delay in the arrival of monsoon has further aggravated the situation.
“More than 20,000 hectares of forest has been destroyed in the wild fires till date. This time the damage to forests is more than 10 times compared to last year’s loss of 1,758 hectares,” said Avtar Singh, chief conservator, Forest Protection and Fire Control.
The loss to the forest wealth this season was estimated at Rs 2.44 crore, whereas it was just Rs 43 lakh last year.
The total forest loss in 2010 was 7,654 hectares in the state, while it was 24,849 hectares in 2009.
Records of the forest department say 22 per cent or 8,267 sq km of the total forest area in the state is fire-prone. Forest officials said most fire incidents are deliberate acts. The local villagers also tend to set grasslands afire to get softer grass after the rains. In most cases, the fire from grasslands spreads to nearby forests.
Citing reports of the Forest Survey of India (FSI), Negi said 100 per cent of forest fires in the state are caused by human interference. “The state has no mechanism to restrict human activity. There is a provision under which rights of villagers can be curtailed if they fail to assist the forest department in extinguishing forest fires, but it has not been enforced,” he added. Contrary to Negi, the forest department said besides clearing fire lines and controlled fires ahead of the fire season, it’s involving the locals to counter the fires.
Chief conservator Singh said over 100 self-help groups comprising villagers have been formed in Hamirpur, Sirmaur, Shimla, Kangra, Bilaspur and Una districts, where most of the wildfire incidents are being reported. “Every day, the groups patrol the forests to check fire incidents. Such exercises have been on every year during peak summer since 2008.”
According to the Forest Survey of India report of 2009, Himachal Pradesh has 37,033 sq km of forest area, out of which 3,224 sq km is very dense forest. (IANS)