Forest Survey Report 2021: Forest fire counts up 2.7 times

Forest fires in Uttarakhand in November 2020-June 2021 were 28.3 times more compared to November 2019-June 2020  

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Friday 14 January 2022

India reported 345,989 forest fires from November 2020 to June 2021, according to the State of Forests Report, 2021 (SoFR, 2021), released January 13, 2022. This is the highest recorded in the country for this period so far.

At least 258,480 forest fires were reported during the same time in 2018-19, and were the second-highest so far, according to data presented by Ashwini Kumar Choubey, minister of state in the Union environment ministry, in the Rajya Sabha December 16, 2021.

Year Number of forest fires Increase or decrease in forest fires (over the previous year)
January-June 2017 3,623  
January-June 2018 11,808 225.92%
November 2018-June 2019 12,965 9.80%
November 2019-June 2020 759 -94.15%
November 2020- June 2021 21,487 2,730.96%

Forest fires break out in India from November-May every year due to various natural and anthropogenic reasons including accumulation of inflammable materials such as dry leaves, twigs, pine needles, etc.

This is 2.7 times more than the fires reported between November 2019 and June 2020. This includes large, continuous and repeated forest fires.

The country has seen this increase after a decrease in forest fire counts in the last two most recent forest seasons — November 2018-June 2019 and November 2019-June 2020.

Odisha reported the maximum fires among all states (51,968), followed by Madhya Pradesh (47,795) and Chhattisgarh (38,106).

Uttarakhand recorded the sixth-highest fire counts in the country; incidences were up 28.3 times this forest fire season compared to last.

Is climate change responsible?

While forest fires are a recurring and common phenomena, their frequency has been on the rise in the state over many years.

There were 21,487 incidents of fire in Uttarakhand’s forests between November 2020 and June 2021. The figure for the same period in the previous year was 759.

Year Number of forest fires Increase or decrease in forest fires (over the previous year)
January-June 2017 245,783  
January-June 2018 258,480 5.17%
November 2018-June 2019 210,286 -18.65%
November 2019-June 2020 124,473 -40.81%
November 2020- June 2021 345,989 177.96%

This could be seen as another manifestation of climate change. SoFR, 2021 too acknowledged the link between climate change and forest fires, citing the global forest resources assessment 2020.

The report has mapped climate change hotspots in Indian forests based on projections for 2030, 2050 and 2080 and alerted that the state will record the maximum increase in temperature and possibly a decrease in rainfall.

Chhattisgarh recorded 23.3 times more forest fire counts than last season; Bihar 8.4 times more than last season.   

Forests are managed by the state forest departments.

The Union environment ministry supports the efforts of state / Union territory governments in preventing and controlling forest fire by providing financial assistance for various forest fire prevention and management measures under the centrally sponsored forest fire prevention and management scheme.

A total of Rs 125 crore has been released to the states in the last three years (2018-19 to 2020-21) under this scheme, according to the statement in the parliament December 16, 2021.  

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