The National Green Tribunal today rapped the Centre for remaining a “mute spectator” to the recurring forest fires in the hilly states, and directed the environment ministry to formulate a national policy within three months. The green panel said advanced planning and implementation of the fire management and crisis management plan for forest fires could have prevented massive fires that engulfed the Himalayan states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh last year. “The central government has also been a mute spectator in this natural calamity and ecological disaster which keeps repeating itself with greater intensity and devastation year after year. Except for routinely clearing forest fire management plans and releasing funds mechanically, the impact of its policies and scheme on the ground has rarely, if any, been made,” a bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said.
The green body directed the chief secretary of both the states to review implementation of the forest fire management plan of their respective state to take effective steps to prevent and control forest fires and “execute relief, rehabilitation and restorative measures”. “The financial resources, manpower, transport/vehicle and firefighting equipment should be made available to the forest department both at the state and district/division levels, at the beginning of the financial year so that forest fire management plan could be implemented in totality and effectively,” the bench said. Justice R S Rathore was also in the bench. The tribunal also held that in order to ensure effective participation of the people living in villages close to forests, the labour for fire prevention and control should be sourced preferably from the same area and special incentive provided to such people. “The forest fire management plan should be prepared with active partnership of the village-level panchayati raj institutions, van panchayats and should be revised every year based on the experience gained.
“The satellite-based forest fire alert system should be strengthened in collaboration with National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) and the Forest Survey of India and the field staff trained in prevention and control. Use of social media, print and electronic media and a dedicated website should be created for the purpose of information dissemination and the officers to be contacted in the event of fire,” it said. The judgement came on a plea filed by senior advocate Rajiv Dutta against the massive forest fires in the hilly areas. He had claimed that large area of forests, along with diverse biological species, have already become extinct as a consequence of these preventable forests. “If no urgent steps are taken, further devastation would be caused to a huge chunk of flora and fauna which are considered as wealth of the nation,” he had said.