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Daily Current Affairs for UPSC

SC Orders Chief Secretary Over Uttarakhand Forest Fires

Syllabus: Governance[GS-2], Environment and Pollution[ GS-3]

Context

Uttarakhand, a state in northern India, has been grappling with devastating forest fires in recent years. The situation has raised concerns about the state’s preparedness and response to such disasters. The Supreme Court has taken cognizance of the matter and issued a stern warning to the state government, summoning the chief secretary to appear before it.

Background

  • The state has the mighty Himalayas as a companion. Forest fires burn here due to a variety of reasons like global warming, human activities and natural causes.
  • Since the recent years, the state has been affected by a large number of forest fires, among which the fires of 2021 have burnt the forest lands of more than 1200 hectares.

Causes of Forest Fires

The main causes of forest fires in Uttarakhand include:

  • Human activities include farming,jungle rotational grazing, and tourist visiting.
  • Increase on average in temperatures and fluctuations in the weather due to the change of climate.
  • Natural causes of fire are storms that can cause lightning and self-combustions of materials such as cotton.

Impact of Forest Fires

The forest fires in Uttarakhand have severe environmental, social, and economic impacts, including:

  • Loss of biodiversity and wildlife habitats
  • Soil erosion and landslides
  • Disruption of water sources and hydroelectric projects
  • Adverse effects on local communities and their livelihoods

State’s Response

The Uttarakhand Government underestimated the intensity of the blaze and publicly notifying the court that the emergency was efficient for view looking at was their statement. Nevertheless, the court stayed away from bold certitude and stressed that a single engagement by devices meant to divert some of the cloud towards the fire would not provide full fire suppression. The state said that the forest fires that occurred in Uttarakhand, India too were part of a natural cyclical phenomenon that took place everywhere around the world, with higher frequencies occurring every four years. It claimed that only 0.1% of the wildlife cover was on fire, despite reports suggesting a much higher percentage.

Supreme Court’s Concerns

The Supreme Court (SC) recently expressed its displeasure over the steps taken by the Uttarakhand government in controlling forest fires. The court questioned whether the state had adopted a “lackadaisical” approach in addressing this critical issue. Key concerns raised by the SC include:

  • Funding Allocation: The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority released just a sweat over 3. In 2023-24 allocation of Rs. 10 crore has been done on forest fire management to quench the fire, whereas the centre has allocated Rs. 9 crore. 13 crore. This difference in coverage made the state’s funding, which should be dedicated to fire prevention, to appear absurd.
  • Vacancies in Forest Department: In line with this, the court placed the emphasis on Forest Department estates that are empty, and that in turn could compromise firefighting. Staffing enough is a fundamental prerequisite to the early response and good management.
  • Diversion of Personnel: The latest incident where forest officials and preventive inspectors were employed during polling to majorly highlight that the purpose of their roles has been grossly diverted from forest safety.
  • Burning of Pine Needles: From setting high fines on ignition of pine needles, which often leads to forest fire, a great deal should be worked out. Pine needle bed accumulation entails worsening the fire hazards.
  • State Disaster Management Fund: The court asked the government to submit details on when they had released the State Disaster Management Fund, which performs the key role in relief efforts.

Vigilance and Criminal Cases

The state maintained a high level of vigilance, recording 398 incidents of forest fires since November 2023. Notably, 350 criminal cases were registered, with 62 individuals named as suspects. If found guilty, they could face up to two years of imprisonment.

Conclusion

In conclusion, addressing forest fires requires urgent action, adequate funding, and a committed effort from all stakeholders. The delicate Himalayan ecosystem demands our attention, and the state must prioritise fire prevention and mitigation strategies to safeguard lives and biodiversity.

Source: The Indian Express

UPSC Mains Practice Question

Q. Discuss the role of administrative accountability in managing natural disasters, with reference to the recent Supreme Court intervention in the Uttarakhand forest fires. How can such interventions improve disaster management in India?

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