Dharmendra Pradhan urges Union Environment Minister to act on Odisha forest fires

Odisha has recorded 871 large forest fires since November 1, 2022, the beginning of the forest fire season, said Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

New Delhi: Taking the ongoing forest fires in Odisha, Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has urged Union Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change Bhupendra Yadav to institute urgent measures to check such forest fires.

During his meeting with Yadav today, Pradhan requested him to set up an empowered committee consisting of central, and state forest officials and environmentalists for charting a long-term action plan for mitigating and preventing forest fires in the state.

Pradhan also wrote a letter to Yadav where he said, “Odisha has 51,619 sq. km. of forest cover, with a significant portion categorized as ‘extremely fire-prone, ‘very highly fire-prone, ‘highly fire-prone and ‘moderately fire-prone. This includes the Similipal National Park, India’s 7th largest national park, which is home to several endangered species.

A prolonged dry spell since October 2022 and the accumulation of inflammable materials such as dry leaves across the forests in Odisha have led to large-scale forest fires across the State. Forest fires continue to rage in Odisha after the state recorded 642 large fire incidents from March 2-9, 2023 — the highest in the country during the period, according to the Forest Survey of India (FSI) data. On March 9, the eastern state recorded 96 major fires in different jungles — also the highest in the country. From all the other states combined, 189 active fire incidents were reported on the same day, according to FSI.

Odisha has recorded 871 large forest fires since November 1, 2022, the beginning of the forest fire season. This is also a national record for the season, official data showed. It was followed by Andhra Pradesh (754), Karnataka (642), Telangana (447) and Madhya Pradesh (316).

As of today, there are 1840 cases of forest fires in Odisha, out of which 153 are large-scale fires. It is pertinent to note that in the last 24 hours, a massive 1625 incidents of forest fires have been reported in the state. Reportedly, 35% of all forest fires in the country are reported from Odisha. In the last four months, Odisha has reportedly lost 4000 Hectares of Forest Area due to forest fires. While the dreadful memories of the 2021 Forest Fires (a total of 51,968 forest fire incidents in the state, majorly in Simlipal National Park in Mayurbhanj) are still fresh, it is believed that without swift action forest fires incidents in 2023 would cross the 2021 levels,” the letter reads.

“Such forest fires not only cause irreparable damage to the land’s flora and fauna but also pose a threat to tribal and farming communities living on the periphery of forests. It destroys their livelihoods earned from MFPs such as timber, mahua flowers, kendu leaves, and medicinal plants. Furthermore, it contributes to severe air pollution over urban dwellings and rising temperatures in the State,” Pradhan mentioned.

The Union Education Minister emphasized the necessity to address these ongoing forest fires immediately with swift and coordinated action between the Central and State Forest departments while coming up with a long-term plan for the prevention and mitigation of further forest fires in Odisha. “Involvement of the local community and rejuvenating the existing water bodies inside the forests to control the fires may please be stressed in the mitigation strategies,” he said.

“Though the forest and fire department have been provided with equipment to deal with forest fires, most men have not received training on their usage. “Usage of Helicopters and airborne methods for dousing the forest fires needs to be deployed in some parts as most of these forest areas are still inaccessible to Fire Vans on the ground,” he added.

The Minister further said, “I seek your personal intervention of Yadav in convening a meeting with officials of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and the State Government for launching urgent measures to contain and subdue the forest fires in Odisha. He said there is a need to assess the damage to forest land, flora & fauna, as well as communities dependent on forests for their livelihood and take suitable remedial and reparative actions in this regard.”

“Furthermore, I requested the Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to set up an empowered committee with representatives from the Central and State forest department officials, environmentalists, and forest conservationists for coming up with a detailed long-term action plan for preventing and mitigating future forest fires in Odisha,” he added.

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