Wednesday, Jul 16, 2003
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By Our Staff Correspondent
A report "Forest Fires in India'' brought out by the World Wide Fund for Nature India suggests that 50 per cent of the forest area in the country is fire-prone ranging from 33 per cent in some States to 90 per cent in others and about six per cent is prone to major fires.
Ecologists believe that India being located in the sub-tropical region, organic matter decomposition is inherently fast and forest fires may hasten further turning over of the organic matter. This may lead to nutrient loss from the forests and consequently to their large-scale degradation, the report points out.
Comprehensive scientific information on forest fires in the country is scanty and detailed studies are required for better management of forests through fires as in the developed countries where fire is being used as a management tool, the report suggests. "In India, nothing could be prescribed on the basis of sporadic and location-specific scientific studies. Until comprehensive studies are carried out, control on man-made recurrent wildfires involving local communities seems to be the best strategy,'' it recommends.
Communities intentionally set fire to forests for various reasons in different parts of the country. The pine (Pinus roxburghi) forests are set on fire during summer to promote growth of herbaceous vegetation for fodder during monsoon; forest patches are burnt to practise `jhum' or shifting agriculture, and fire is caused by the local communities to collect non-timber forest products such as `Mahua' (Madhuca latifolia) fruits or is traditionally set on fire by some tribal communities to propitiate local deities.
In the western side, tribals burn forests to celebrate the birth of a son and in the Western Ghats, fires are set in the forests on the upper hill slopes just before the advent of the monsoon to use mineral-rich ash that is washed down to make agriculture fields fertile.
In addition, cattle grazers, schoolboys, forest contractors and forest personnel set fire to forests for various reasons. Sometimes, an individual or a community also sets ablaze forests to take revenge against rivals for one reason or the other.
Among the many causes of accidental fires, the important ones are fire caused due to burning of crop remains from agriculture fields, fire occurring from fire lines during controlled-burning by the Forest Department, a live cigarette or bidi butt carelessly thrown by passersby, vehicle repairs on roads or campfires set up by tourists.
The aim of the pilot study was to gain first hand information from different States and based on the experience and the lessons learnt, step up the study to highlight the forest fire issue and to facilitate development and implementation of a meaningful national action plan for the control and management of forest fires in the country.
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