Forest fires have been continuing to rage in the Uttarakhand for more than a week with multiple fires reported from the Tehri forest range. Fires have been also seen in mountains in Almora, Peora, Surya Gaon, Sattal and Kausani.
According to an official report, these fires have engulfed 1,960 hectare of Uttarakhand jungles. The fires were spreading fast in the reserved forest areas where 1,466 hectares of forests were affected with 1,153 incidents so far. Almora and Nainital were the worst affected districts where 297 and 289 incidents have been reported. Dehradun and Tehri districts have reported 137 and 140 incidents.
“When we discovered the fire, all of the male members of the family went there. We called the town council and the panchayat, but hardly a few people turned up. Even from the forest department only a couple of people came. Very few villagers also showed up even though they live off the forest,” said Padmini Smetacek, who runs a homestay in Bhimtal.
“These were the first fires in the region. The forests here come under the supervision of the Van Panchayat. They sent around six people who had no clue about fire-fighting. Instead of stopping fires, they added to it. They have no training to stop fires. We were able to stop the fire in only three days. The Van Panchayat must maintain the fire lines, which are important to contain fires. But, it isn’t maintained. There are funds for it, but the government is not doing a good job of it,” says Gauri Rana, a resident of Bhimtal.
The Bhowali range officer, however, seemed quite lackadaisical. “We aretrying our best to control the fires. But, you must understand there werestrong winds too and that makes our jobs extremely difficult. We sent around 15 people and we are trying our best,” said Mukul Sharma.
The Uttarakhand forest minister Harak Singh Rawat has criticised the Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat for sending the three top forest officials on a Europe tour.
According to reports, Harak Singh, in a letter to the department of Personnel, has stated that "no due permission" was taken from him for the foreign tour of the three officials and that "no such permission" should be granted to any officer without his prior approval. His letter came after the Congress had attacked the state government.
In the letter, Rawat also stated that the three officials took permission from Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat without his knowledge. "They went at a time when forest fires were raging. This is not acceptable," the Forest Minister said.
The three top officials who went on foreign tours are Principal Conservator and head of Forest Department Jay Raj, Chief Conservator(Kumaon) Vivek Pandey and Conservator (Western Circle Kumaon) Parag Madhukar Dhikate.
According to sources, the central government had allotted ₹45,000 crore for afforestation in 2016 after a campaign to stop fires. They also have received ₹500 crore from World Bank to research the cause of forest fires.