The raging jungle fires of Uttarakhand are finally brought down by 10,000 personnel, but not before burning down 3,000 hectares of forest. Apart from hundreds of fire-fighters, Mi-17 helicopters of the Indian Air Force and over hundred personnel from the National Disaster Response Force fought together to bring down the blaze.
Now that the blaze is under control, central environment minister Prakash Javadekar has stated that the fires in Uttarakhand have been burning for nearly three months, in which around seven people have lost their lives. Last month, around 1,200 fires had broken out in the state.
As the minister rattles off the statistics, we are flummoxed. A jungle fire that had been burning for three months, and it was not news! What kind of state lets that happen, sitting duck while hundreds of acres of jungle turn to ashes?
Lessons learnt, the government plans to start a satellite picture-based fire alarm system that will send out text messages to the authorities every time a fresh fire is detected. Sadly, we had to wait for the loss of 3000-hectare green cover to come up with preventive measures.
Jungle fires are not new in the hilly state. So what took the state so long to send out the SOS signals? I wonder if it’s the non-parity of the two political parties, the Congress at the state and the BJP at the Centre. But isn’t the welfare of the land is bigger than petty politics, or am I getting too utopian here?
The utter negligence on the state’s part has led people to theorise that the fires were manmade. Although reasons for the fire are still not found, the government has already started a witch-hunt to pin the negligence. Four people have been arrested “found starting the fires” in Pauri Garhwal, Javedakar has stated.
And the allegations are not wholly baseless. Weather and wildlife experts believe the reason might be anything, ranging from scant rainfall, El Nino to climate warming. But detractors say it’s a deadly nexus of several mafias that work in association with political leaders.
A Facebook post doing the rounds point finger at the timber mafia, who the post claims, will take the burned trees and make pots of money. The trees that die in the fire are sold for crores and this ghastly project makes for a mega windfall for the timber dealers and mafia. Forests officials, in connivance with the timber and land mafias, appoint villagers to set the fire every summer. Once the fire subsides, the logs are claimed by the timber mafia, while the land mafia clears the burnt jungle and take over the forest land.
The idea seems quite impractical though, for burnt trees would have no value for timber merchants. But encroaching cleared forest land is a high risk that Uttrakhand might run into.
The only way to ensure there is no money windfall for the mafias, the state and the Centre will have to make sure that the burnt forest land is not encroached, but used for reviving the green cover. Also, the timber could be sold at an auction, marring the timber traders from using the incident as an advantage.
If we fail to protect our forests, we will fast forward towards a concrete jungle, where the only animals will be the abnormal mutant ones, who survive the holocaust of human greed.