Context: In April, Uttarakhand has recorded 361 incidents of the forest fire that have damaged 567 hectares, including 380 hectares of reserve forest areas. Forest fires in Uttarakhand start in spring when the trees shed dry leaves and the soil loses moisture due to a rise in temperature.
- This ‘forest fire season’ continues usually till mid-June in the summer.
- In hilly areas, the surface gets drier faster than plains due to lower accumulation of rainwater.
- According to experts, three factors cause spread of forest fire — fuel load, oxygen and temperature.
- Dry leaves are fuel for forest fires and its quantity this time is more than past years.
- Strong wind velocity is spreading fire very fast in jungles.
- Among these factors, the forest department can control only fuel load by controlled burning.
- Setting forest on fire is a punishable offence under the Indian Penal Code.
What causes Forest Fires in Uttarakhand ?
- The forest department cites four causes of wildfires in the region– deliberate fires by locals, carelessness, farming-related activities and natural reasons.
- According to a government report, locals set forests on fire for the growth of good quality grass, to cover up illegal cutting of trees, for poaching and sometimes to even take revenge from somebody including government employees.
- Friction of electricity cables with dry leaves and woods and lightning too trigger wildfires.
- Forest fires result from a combination of natural and social factors. The forest fire triangle in figure 1.3 illustrates how these factors are interrelated.
- Local topography influences the difficulty of fire prevention and suppression and can raise the potential for out-of-control fires.
- Moving up steep slopes, fires can spread at several times the rate they would on level ground.
- Winds in rugged terrain can change direction quickly or blow harder, and fuels may dry out faster on south-facing slopes.
- By comparison with dry deciduous forests, there is a greater potential for intense fire behaviour in India’s subtropical pine forests. Pine needles degrade slowly and have a high resin content.
More specifically the causes of Forest Fires in Uttarakhand India are:
- Rubbing of dry sticks
- Friction due to rolling stones
Man- Made Causes:
- Shifting Cultivation
- Covering up Illicit felling of trees
- Clearing path through the forest
- Tribal Traditions
The following are among the advantages of natural forest fires:
- Wildfires are sometimes a natural process, and help forests by promoting flowering, branching and seedling establishment.
- Fires that are limited to the surface may help in the natural regeneration of forests.
- The heating of the soil may result in helpful microbial activity, and hasten decaying processes that are useful for the vegetation.
- Fire helps revive dormant seeds of many species.
- Some young woody trees survive ground fires and have higher growth rates immediately post-fire, until they reach a certain height.
- Fires helps suppressing invasive species.
The following are among the disadvantages of forest fires:
- Forest fires are one of the most important causes of land degradation that lead to biodiversity loss, deforestation and desertification processes.
- Wildfires release chlorine-containing compounds. Some of these can reach the ozone layer, and cause photocatalytic ozone depletion.
- Forest fires and volcanic eruptions are the largest producer of dioxins in the world. Dioxins are carcinogenic bio-accumulative toxins, that are able to persist in the environment for a prolonged period of time.
What are the preventive measures?
- Van Panchayats should be given rights and incentives for protecting the forests.
- The provisions of the Forest Act of 1988 dissociates the local community with the forests and, in the absence of a sense of belonging, local community villagers do not initiate dousing fires on their own.
- Waterholes should be developed across the mountains to recharge groundwater and maintain moisture in the soil.
Forest Fire Prevention and Management in India
- Forests are a subject in the concurrent list (brought under this list through 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1976) of the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
- National Action Plan on Forest Fires (NAPFF-2018) of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
- MoEFCC also provides forest fire prevention and management measures under the Centrally Sponsored Forest Fire Prevention and Management (FPM) scheme.
- The FPM replaced the Intensification of Forest Management Scheme (IFMS) in 2017. By revamping the IFMS, the FPM has increased the amount dedicated for forest fire work.
- Funds allocated under the FPM are according to a centre-state cost-sharing formula, with a 90:10 ratio of central to state funding in the Northeast and Western Himalayan regions and a 60:40 ratio for all other states.
- It also provides the states the flexibility to direct a portion of the National Afforestation Programme (NAP) and Mission for Green India (GIM) funding toward forest fire work.