Timber mafia burning Uttarakhand forests down

A national emergency is being ignored even as a chain of 398 forest fires has been reported.

 |  3-minute read |   29-04-2016
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The scenic natural beauty of Uttarakhand may just have a short lifespan, as developers and industrial growth poke their ugly fingers at the smallest of towns and villages.

A national emergency is being ignored even as a chain of massive forest fires - more than 398 reported cases till last count - have swept the state in the past seven days, leaving in its wake destroyed forests and dead trees running into hundreds of thousands.

image2_042916061916.jpg 398 cases of forest fire have been reported so far.

It was believed that natural causes led to the fires before nature conservationists and environmentalists began to unearth the actual reason of how and why they broke out. Speaking about the recent spurt in cases, a forest official says: "Millions of animals, birds and insects have been charred. You see builders want the trees to burn and die in areas where the locals own forested land. They can only sell once the trees die as they can then build on the land. Villagers sell the timber and a nexus is formed, this scale of burning all over the state is mind-boggling, and the wood alone from these fires will earn thousands of crores to the illicit timber black marketeers."

He added that no one could fight the perpetrators. "They are powerful as long as they buy wood locals will sell it. And we are understaffed. How much can we do? There are right now 16 calls and we are already busy. They are all just eating money."

"Protected forests of Kumaon and Garwal have been set ablaze by villagers for many years, they set fire to the forests in order to expect a better growth of grass and the main source of illicit income, the dead trees. but this year, it is a massive offensive and all parts of the state are burning. We have a small bird watchers group in Sattal and we caught three minor boys setting fire to the forest there. We asked them why, and they told us their father had instructed them to set fire to the jungle. We doused the flames with water but the next day it was once agin set on fire," says Rahul Sharma, a bird expert.

"Unless the army is deployed immediately, we will have a grim situation on our hands. We need help to fight the fires but none has been sent in a week," says victor, a local resident of Bhimtal.

The Pioneer reported that 398 incidents of forest fires, reported till April 29 alone, have damaged more than 674.58 hectares of forest. The fires reached near the commissioner’s office a day earlier and a van stranded in the vicinity of the block office in Pauri was burnt to the ground.

They continue to take their toll and have now spread to more than 674.58 hectares of forest land in the Garhwal region, affecting populated areas in the vicinity. Things are grim as both the reserve and civil forests have come under the fire.

As per the office of the chief conservator of forests, Pauri, till April 29, 179 incidents of fire occurred in the Garhwal circle and destroyed about 253.70 hectares of forest land while 118 fire incidents  affected another 129.50 hectares in the Bhagirathi circle. Besides, 22 fire incidents have affected 57.60 hectares of forests in the Yammuna circle. In the Garhwal forest circle, of the 353.70 hectares of land destroyed, 123.45 hectares were part of the reserve forest and 230.25 hectares of the civil forest area.

Why are we ignoring the crisis?

Follow updates on the massive fires on the author's Facebook page.

Writer

Ela Smetacek Ela Smetacek @ylasmetacek

Animal welfare worker, fashion designer based in Bhimtal, Uttarakhand.

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