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NGT asks environment ministry to evolve national policy to prevent forest fires

LiveMint logoLiveMint 03-08-2017 Mayank Aggarwal

New Delhi: Pulling up the Union environment ministry for failing to deal effectively with forest fires, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday asked the ministry to evolve a national policy for prevention and control of forest fires.

It also sought a network of “automated surveillance or watch towers” at strategic locations to provide regularly, on a real time basis, data for forest fire alerts.

The NGT’s order came on a 2016 plea that had sought immediate directions to control massive forest fires in Uttarakhand and Himachal that damage hundreds of hectares of forests. It also sought steps to ensure that such disasters do not recur.

In April-May 2016, Uttarakhand witnessed a major forest fire with over 6,000 personnel from various state and central agencies being deployed to fight it. At that time, the government also announced that it was working on a new system of issuing pre-fire alerts to prevent such incidents.

In its order on Thursday, the three-member principal bench of NGT headed by chairperson Swatanter Kumar said state authorities had failed miserably to prevent an avoidable natural disaster “despite the so-called forest fire management plans being in place”.

“The Central government has also been a mute spectator in this natural calamity and ecological disaster which keeps repeating itself with greater intensity and devastation year after year. Except for routinely clearing the Forest Fire Management Plans and releasing funds mechanically, the impact of its policies and scheme on the ground has rarely, if any, been made,” Kumar said in NGT’s order.

The green tribunal bench directed that Union environment ministry, “in consultation with the states formulate national policy/guidelines for forest fire prevention and control, which should be updated periodically”.

“It should also issue directions under Section 5 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 to the states to prepare and implement forest fire management plan for effective prevention and control of forest fires in the respective states. First lot of such policy should be issued within three months from the date of passing of this judgment,” said the order while noting that forest fires can create serious environmental hazards and disaster.

The bench said “financial resources, manpower, transport/vehicle and firefighting equipment should be made available to the forest department both at the state and district/division level, at the beginning of the financial year so that forest fire management plan could be implemented in totality and effectively.”

The order also sought a “forest fire vulnerability mapping of the entire forest area” to identify hotspots of fire in vulnerable areas and locations where stations for fire prevention and control could be set up.

It directed that the forest fire management plan be prepared with active partnership of the village level authorities and revised every year based on the experience gained.

“The satellite based Forest Fire Alert System should be strengthened in collaboration with National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) and the Forest Survey of India and the field staff trained in prevention and control. Use of social media, print and electronic media and a dedicated web site should be created for the purpose of information dissemination and the officers to be contacted in the event of fire,” the order said.

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