Forest fires caused due to collection of non timber forest produce: government report

Forest rights activists say that blaming the communities for fires is wrong and often it is forest department's interventions that cause the fires

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Thursday 11 October 2018
Tendu leaf
Credit: Vikas Chaudhary/CSE Credit: Vikas Chaudhary/CSE

The collection of Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) by forest communities is one of the reasons for forest fires, according to a report recently released by the Union Environment Minister, Harsh Vardhan.

The report titled, Strengthening Forest Fire Management in India was prepared jointly by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the World Bank.  

“The collection of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) was reported as another main cause of fire. Officers in five states identified the process of obtaining NTFPs as the most common cause of forest fires: Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Telangana. Officers in these states and others pointed to a diverse array of NTFPs obtained with the aid of fire,” says the report. 

However, experts say that holding the communities responsible for the fires is wrong and often it is the interventions of the forest department that causes forest fires in states like Odisha. 

 “To say that the communities set fire to collect NTFPs is not entirely true. Local communities like the Community Forest Management groups in Odisha have well established systems of forest fire management which are far more effective then forest dept's interventions,” says Tushar Dash who works with the Community Forest Rights Learning and Advocacy, a group that ensures implementation of the Schedule Tribe and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, (FRA).

Forest departmentt's interventions such as tendu leaf operations have caused forest fires in Odisha and other states. There are also examples where recognition and ownership rights under FRA have increased community efforts and reduced incidents of forest fires as reported from Mayurbhanj and Kandhmal in Odisha, says Dash. 

Forest fires have distinct regional patterns and 20 districts (not the same ones) account for 47 per cent of fire distribution. The report also pointed out that forest fires are caused by a combination of natural and social factors. It discusses policies on forest fire prevention and management and underscores the need to put more emphasis on better fire prevention practices and a well-equipped and trained workforce to fight fires. There is an urgent need to fill vacancies for field staff, particularly in fire-prone areas, and to make adequate and reliable funding available.

Recommendations to curb forest fires included developing a National Forest Fire Prevention Management Plan as an open, consultative and a time-bound process, standard management practices, adapt technology to local conditions, as well as scaling up the best practices and increasing engagement with local communities to ensure that big fire is used in a responsible way and at the same time, give communities a greater say in decision-making process. 

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