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Forest Fires – NGT Issues Guidelines for Effective Implementation of Action Plan for Control

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NGT Guidelines for controlling Forest-fires-in-himachal-pradesh

Shimla-Himachal Pradesh is the storehouse of biodiversity and animal life, which exists in perpetual threat of forest fires. Out of total 45,000 species of plants found in the country, 3,295 species (7.32 percent) are present in the state. More than 95 percent of flora species are natural to the state and characteristic of Western Himalayan flora, while about five percent (150 species) are exotic introduced over the last 150 years.

Forest department records show 22 percent, or 8,267 sq km of the total forest area, particularly in the mid and low hills, is fire-prone. Majority of the fires are reported from pine forests since, during summer, the trees shed pine needles that are highly inflammable for their rich content of turpentine oil. The pine forests are found up to an altitude of 5,500 feet.

Official figures show that 2018 was the worst year with 2,469 fire incidents reported — the highest in eight years — that consumed 25,300 hectares of forest across the state. In 2012-13, the second-worst year, pine forest fires consumed 20,773 hectares with a total of 1,798 cases.

There are 196 forest ranges in the state, of which 80 are most sensitive and fire-prone.

Recently A Coram of Adarsh Kumar Goel (Chairperson), J. and S.P. Wangdi (Judicial Member), K. Ramakrishnan (Judicial Member), JJ. and Dr Nagin Nanda (Expert Member) in Rajiv Dutta v. Union of India laid down guidelines for effective implementation of the action plan for controlling forest fires.

Tribunal in one of its interim Orders had sought a report on:

  • Fire alerts
  •  Mapping of forest areas which are critical and vulnerable
  •  Steps for fire line cutting as preventive measures for forest fires

Further, in the same order, a direction was made to prepare “A National Policy” periodically, and keep it updated under Section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

Section 5 of the Act envisages Forest Fire Management Plans, Crisis Management Policy, plans for relief, rehabilitation and restoration, financial resources, manpower, transport, fire-fighting equipment, community involvement, including 2 involvement of Panchayati Raj Institutions, Van Panchayats, satellite-based forest fire alert system in collaboration with the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) and the Forest Survey of India (FSI), use of media for information, dissemination and awareness, having a nodal officer to oversee fire prevention and control at Head Quarters to coordinate with different Government agencies, dissemination of best practices and experiences, a network of automated surveillance or watchtowers/observation posts at strategic locations, mock drill exercises, capacity building at various levels.

The Hon’ble Tribunal, based on the said report submitted by MoEF, gave the following guidelines:

  1. Though a comprehensive action plan had been duly adopted, its implementation required a robust institutional mechanism in view of the increase in the incidents of forest fires.
  2. Institutional mechanism for preventing and controlling forest fires may comprise of representatives of the MoEF&CC, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Wildlife Institute of India, National Disaster Management Authority, Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE), Forest Survey of India (FSI) and the National Remote Sensing Centre representing the Central Government on one hand; and the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of all the States/Union Territories on the other hand.
  3. The Central Monitoring Committee will be headed by the Secretary of MoEF with seven members mentioned in point no. (ii) above. The Secretary would be free to add any member or expert, apart from special invitees, if any.
  4. Central Monitoring Committee must meet once in three months and address all the issues arising out of forest fires, including the effective implementation of NAPFF.
  5. The Tribunal also noted that from the NAPFF, a national level database must be developed for burnt area assessment on a yearly basis.
  6. Standardized protocols and procedures must be developed by ICFRE and FSI to facilitate the reporting of the area affected and losses due to the forest fire.
  7. ICFRE was also directed to assist in designing and organizing adequate training programs for forest officials at various levels.
  8. The Secretary, MoEF&amp may issue directions for the constitution of an appropriate institutional mechanism at State levels also.

(The post was first published in https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/ )

Deven Khanna is a Lawyer, practicing at High Court of Himachal Pradesh, other H.P Courts/Tribunals and the Supreme Court of India, he is an alumnus of a National Law School. For any queries related to the articles, he can be contacted at 7018469792 or at khannadeven@gmail.com. The personal blog is at https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/

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Himachal: Report Forest Fires on Toll-Free Numbers 1077 and 1070

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helpline for Forest Fires in himachal pradesh

Shimla-Forest fire is a recurrent annual phenomenon in Himachal Pradesh and causes losses worth several crores every year. Dry spell and summers make forests, especially chir pine forests, highly vulnerable to forest fires. These forest fires not only damage the forest wealth but also hit wildlife and biodiversity in general. The forest department attributes most fires to human factors.

Like every year, the forest department has claimed that it is all geared up and ready to combat forest fires this year too. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Dr. Savita on Monday held a virtual review meeting with Forest Circles on preparedness for forest fires in the state.

She said that the Forest department was well prepared to fight the forest fires and a rapid forest fire fighting force and rapid response teams had been set up at forest division and range levels.

“Approximately 40,000 man-days of fire watchers would be engaged by the department in addition to existing frontline staff for preventing and combating forest fires,” she said. The state disaster control room with toll-free number 1077 at the state level and 1070 at the district level were operational for reporting of the forest fire by the local community, she informed.

Dr. Savita said messages regarding forest fire had been shared with the members of the rapid forest fire fighting force, in which approximately 50,000 volunteers had already been registered. Awareness to the community was also conducted through Nukkar Nataks, songs, speeches and other activities at different locations in the state. Besides, a massive state-level awareness program was also conducted at 45 places from 10 to 17 March 2021

She said that the department had created forest fire lines and did control burning and also constructed water storage structures in the forest areas to combat forest fires. Additional multi-utility vehicles and water loaded tankers in 80 fire-sensitive ranges had been engaged for three months. She that matter regarding Standard Operating Systems (SOPs) for requisition of helicopter services for dousing the forest fires had been sent to the Government for approval. 

Feature Photo: Unsplash@Thematthoward

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Himachal Counts 108,578 Waterbirds of 96 Species This Year With Increase in Habitat

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Annual Bird Count in Himachal Pradesh 2021

Shimla-The habitat of migratory and resident water-birds in Himachal Pradesh has gradually improved, said Forest Minister Rakesh Pathania.

The annual water-bird count at Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary was conducted in the first of February, 2021 and the exercise was conducted under restrained conditions due to the prevailing Avian Influenza outbreak in Pong Dam Lake as well as the COVID-19 Pandemic, he said.

The exercise was conducted by Wildlife wing of Himachal Pradesh by deploying 57 staff members in 26 sections of the sanctuary for counting the water-dependent birds.

Total 108,578 birds of 96 species were counted during this year. Out of the total number, 101,431 of 51 species are water-dependent migratory birds and 6,433 of 29 species are water-dependent resident birds. As many as 714 birds of 16 other species were also recorded. The total population of the flagship species, Bar-Headed Geese, is 40,570.

The other species which have higher population count during this year are Eurasian Coot (24,163), Northern Pintail (12,702), Common Teal (8,444), Little Cormorant (3,649), Great Cormorant (3,410), Grey Lag Goose (2,297), Northern Shoveler (2,275) and Common Pochard (2,138). The species which find noticeable mention are Red Necked Grebe, Great Bittern, Lesser White-Fronted Goose, Red Crested Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Pied Avocet, Northern Lapwing, Peregrine Falcon etc. During the counting exercise, one Bar-headed Goose and one Grey Lag Goose with collars were also spotted.

This year the Annual bird count exercise assumes significance, considering the Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary. Further, the Minister expressed satisfaction over the timely and effective containment measures taken by Wildlife Wing to control and contain Avian Influenza outbreak in the Wildlife Sanctuary.

PCCF (Wildlife) Archana Sharma and CCF Wildlife (North) Dharamshala Upasana Patial also participated and supervised the Annual Water Bird Count.

The total population of birds, as well as number of species, counted this year are marginally less as compared to last year, probably due to the impact of Avian Influenza outbreak which was first reported on 28th December 2020.

Although the total population of water birds declined during the peak of the Avian Influenza outbreak, there is a gradual increase in the total population of birds, the Minister informed.

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Himachal First State to Complete Assessment of Snow Leopard and its Wild Prey

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Snow Leopard Population Assessment in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla-The assessment of snow leopard population in Himachal Pradesh has been completed by the state wildlife wing in collaboration with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) Bangalore following the protocol aligning with the SPAI (Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India) protocols of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Himachal Pradesh has become the first state to complete assessment of snow leopard and its wild prey.

The state has an estimated population of up to 73 snow leopards.

It is the first scientifically robust estimate of snow leopards and its prey for the State. Since snow leopard is the state animal, the study assumes great significance for Himachal Pradesh.
The exercise revealed that snow leopard density ranged from 0.08 to 0.37 individuals per 100 sq.km., with the trans-Himalayan regions of Spiti, Pin valley and upper Kinnaur recording the highest densities, both of the predator and its prey, mainly ibex and blue sheep.

This study covered the entire potential snow leopard habitat of Himachal Pradesh: an area of 26,112 sq.km., utilising a stratified sampling design. Camera trapping surveys were conducted at 10 sites to representatively sample all the strata i.e. high, low and unknown. The camera trap deployment over the mountainous terrains was led by a team of eight local youth of Kibber village and more than 70 frontline staff of HPFD were trained in this technique as part of the project. Snow leopards were detected at all the 10 sites (Bhaga, Chandra, Bharmour, Kullu, Miyar, Pin, Baspa, Tabo, Hangrang & Spiti) suggesting that snow leopards are found in the entire snow leopard habitat in Himachal Pradesh either as resident individuals of a population or as dispersing individuals navigating through these connecting habitats.

Another revelation from the study is that a bulk of snow leopard occurrence is outside protected areas, reiterating the fact that local communities are the strongest allies for conservation in snow leopard landscapes.

The NCF and wildlife wing collaborated in the effort and it took three years to complete the assessment. MoEFCC had launched the First National Protocol on Snow Leopard Population Assessment in India, on the occasion of International Snow Leopard Day. You can read the complete protocol here.

Snow leopard is the icon of high mountains of Asia. In India, they inhabit the higher Himalayan and TransHimalayan landscape in an altitudinal range between approximately 3,000 m to 5,400 m above MSL, spanning c. 100,000 km2 in the five states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. This area contributes to about 5% of the global snow leopard range.

Snow leopards occur over a vast, relatively remote and difficult to access mountainous area. Together with their elusive nature, this makes a complete population census of snow leopards an unfeasible goal. Even their distribution remains unclear. For example, recent surveys show that they do not occur in 25 % of the area that was thought to be their range in the state of Himachal Pradesh Their density is expected to be variable in space, dependent on several factors such as habitat suitability, prey availability, disturbance and connectivity. Variation in density across space also poses the risk of biased sampling, and, indeed, most of the snow leopard population assessments conducted so far across the world are biased towards the best habitats.

Feature Photo: Pexels/Charles Miller

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