Inferno that swept Bandipur has left many questions unanswered

As the fire raged, destroying thousands of acres of forest, animals and birds in its wake, was the concerned Department trying to pin the blame on the local tribal population as usual?

 |  4-minute read |   01-03-2019
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After over five days of ravaging the forests, the fire at the Bandipur Tiger Reserve has finally been put out. The news was confirmed to the media by Sridhar Punatti, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Karnataka.

However, the extent of the damage revealed by satellite data is alarming. Punnati reportedly said, “According to satellite imagery, it is estimated that high-intensity fire has affected 500 hectares (1235.53 acres) mostly in the hillside of Gopalaswamy Betta and the rest of it is mostly low-intensity fire.” The high-intensity fire burns down all forms of vegetation — from shrubs to tall trees.

main_bandipur-fire_p_022719080855.jpgBearing the brunt of human actions — A drongo is seen against the flames of the forest fire. (Photo: PTI)

However, satellite data analyses indicate that the extent of forests burnt could be over 15,000 acres (6070.2846 hectares). The National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), Hyderabad — the remote sensing satellite data acquisition and processing unit under ISRO — has confirmed in its summary report that 15,450 acres (6,252.3932 hectares) have been burnt. Of this, 60.5 acres (24.49 hectares) were affected on February 23. However, by February 24, the fire had spread to 4469.2 acres (1,808.64 hectares), and on February 25, 10920.92 acres (4,419.54 hectares) was ravaged.

The report indicates that there were 127 fire counts in Bandipur between February 21 and 25.

The fire has been contained for now after the after the IAF stepped in to help on February 25, and no fires were reported on February 26 — 19,000 litres of water was sprayed aerially in seven sorties on Tuesday.

It is important to analyse the cause of such widespread wildfire. While forest fires are not new to Bandipur, officials have reportedly admitted that the blaze this year was bigger and wider than the previous years. The causes are being probed, even as the Karnataka Forest Department suspects the fire to be man-made. The Department is quick to blame the locals as the fire broke out in five locations simultaneously — after all, when has the “civilized” world paused to think of the undeniable and ultimate co-dependence that the wildlife (flora and fauna) has with the tribal people?

Speaking with DailyO, Coimbatore-based ecologist N Markandeyan says, “The tribal people and the locals have a much better understanding of living in harmony with the forests and the wildlife, primarily because it is a question of their survival. The problem is when we “city people” go into the forest without an iota of an idea of how to be in tandem with nature do these kinds of mishaps occur. The tourists go into the forests to have a “good time” and assuming the same, light a bonfire — that could be a major trigger. Or even light a cigarette and throw a match stick. Or the cigarette butt. One spark is enough to perish the forest. The Department should be conscious of what kind of people are they issuing permits to.”

bandipur-fire2_pti_022719081113.jpgThe fire has been doused — but the blame-game flames on. (Photo: PTI)

Dinesh Holla, the convener of Sahyadri Sanchaya, has called for a complete ban on tourists during the season when forest fires are likely.

Moreover, the apparent reluctance of the Forest Department to equip themselves with better technology to prevent such fires is inexcusable.

According to Akhilesh Chipli, General Secretary, Save-Wild-Atmosphere-Nature and Man, “The forest officials are not willing to use technology so that forest fires can be curbed. For instance, there is a NASA fire alert one can subscribe to and receive alerts. On several occasions, we have informed the department, based on these alerts. The biodiversity loss is permanent and this is going to impact the rain pattern and climate change.”

However, one irrefutable aspect is that the spread of the fire this time was due to the increased growth of dry grass, thanks to sudden climate change. If this is the situation in the relatively colder months, one dreads to think of what awaits us in the summers.

While we humans ponder on the causes, the possible solutions and whom to blame, the charred animals and trees bear silent witness to human action — or inaction.

Also read: Polar Bear Invasion: Why 50 desperate animals have entered homes in a Russian town


Rajeshwari Ganesan Rajeshwari Ganesan @rajeshwaridotg

Assistant Editor, DailyO

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