Forests

40% fire incidents not responded to by officials, Odisha govt admits

People arrested in several forest areas for starting fires

 
By Ashis Senapati
Published: Friday 05 March 2021
A man dousing a fire in Similipal, Odisha. Photo: Ashis Senapati
A man dousing a fire in Similipal, Odisha. Photo: Ashis Senapati A man dousing a fire in Similipal, Odisha. Photo: Ashis Senapati

The Odisha government has admitted that 40 per cent of fire incidents in the state’s forests recently had not been responded to by officials, according to a letter by a high-ranking bureaucrat.

Lingaraj Otta, the special secretary of the Odisha government of Odisha wrote a letter to all the divisional forest officers (DFOs) of Odisha March 3, 2021 about the incidents of fire.

“Although fire point incidences reported by the Forest Survey of India have been very high during March, they have not been responded / attended to immediately, which is a matter of concern,” Otta wrote.

“It is seen that about 60 per cent of the reported fire points have only been responded to. It is imperative that all the fire points in the fields are attended to on a priority basis and the forest fire should be extinguished immediately before it spreads to adjoining forest areas,” Otta added.

This letter by a senior officer to DFOs proved that the forest officials committed gross negligence in checking forest fires in the state, Jayakrushna Panigrahi, the secretary of Odisha Environmental Society, a non-profit, told this reporter.

Meanwhile, three persons were arrested March 5, 2021 for causing fires within Jharabeda Reserve Forest in Keonjhar district bordering the Similipal Tiger Reserve. 

The three arrested people have been identified as Jugal Juang, Gobardhan Juang and  Ranjan Juang of Namakani village, Swayam Mallick, the DFO of Keonjhar forest division, said.

“They set the forest aflame with an ulterior motive to collect wood and Mahua flowers and kill wild animals. We arrested them when they were torching dry leaves. We booked them under Section 37 of the Odisha Forest Act,” Mallick added.

Forest officials of Sadangi forest range in the Dhenkanal district arrested two poachers March 5 and seized raw meat, including the head of a barking deer and the carcass of a wild boar. 

The arrested poachers, Khetrabashi Pradhan and Baraju Nayak, also set fire to the forest. 

“We have managed to extinguish fires at many places in the Similipal Tiger Reserve and other forests in the state. Firefighters and forest officials are trying to keep the fire under control by digging deep ditches around the fire-hit area. We have put up many camps and sought cooperation from locals to protect forests from fire,” Sashi Pal, the principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF), Odisha forest department, said.

Though the PCCF claimed the raging fires in Similipal were under control, satellite pictures of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Fire Information for Resource Management System of forest fires showed that fires were raging over Odisha and Similipal.

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