Himachal Pradesh this year has witnessed an increase in forest fire incidents by more than two times.
This was revealed in the recent report of Parliamentary Standing Committee, presented during the recent session of the Parliament, to study forest fires.
In Himachal Pradesh during 2016-17, there were 1,545 forest fires which affected 13,069 hectare causing loss of Rs.1.53 crore, whereas, in 2015-16, there were 672 fire incidents which caused harm in 5,749.95 hectare causing loss of Rs.1.34 crore which was more than two times.
There were 725 forest fires in 2014-15, which affected 6,726.49 hectare causing loss of Rs.1.13 crore, while during 2013-14 in Himachal Pradesh there were 397 forest fires, which affected 3,237.52 hectare causing loss of Rs.52.31 lakh.
From 2013-14 to 2015-16, there were 3,344 forest fires which caused a loss of Rs.4.52 crore.
Similarly in Uttrakhand, there were 3,246 forest fires causing loss of Rs.82.40 lakh.
The Committee observed that this year, “In Uttrakhand, forest fire burnt nearly 4,000 hectare of forest cover across 13 districts and killed 9 and injured 17 people besides damaging the biodiversity and forest ecosystems beyond repair. The frequency of forest fire in Uttrakhand during April 2016 was much higher and widespread as compared to April 2015.”
As forest fires took a heavy toll in Uttrakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir weren’t far behind as large tracts of forests in both states were engulfed by flames, maintains the report.
The committee was shocked to note the gross underestimation of losses due to forest fires.
The government estimation in Himachal Pradesh comes to Rs.470 per acre and in Uttrakhand it is Rs.400 per acre.
At loss to understand who will be the actual beneficiaries, the Committee has therefore recommended that an independent agency having impeccable credibility must be roped in by the ministry to estimate the losses in real terms and properly and earmark budget for compensation.
The committee was dismayed to note the problem of encroachment of forest land by people well as the violation of forest conservation rules in Dehradun (Uttrakhand) and Shimla (Himchal Pradesh) as some people purposefully caused fire to encroach forest land which sometimes spreads to other areas as well.
The geographical area of Himchal Pradesh is 55,673 sq km out of which an area of 37,033 sq km is classified as forest which is about 66% of the geographical area.