DEHRADUN: NGOs in the state are concerned that the government policy has created a distance between local communities and forest management, causing a higher possibility of forest fires.
Kalyan Singh Rawat, founder president of Maiti Andolan, said, “Local communities once led what we know as the Chipko movement to save trees in Uttarakhand. Today, these people watch forests burning as mute spectators. The forest department has taken over control of forest areas, denying access to local people.”
Anil Joshi, president of Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization (HESCO), said it was not possible for the poorly staffed forest department to handle a massive forest fire with limited means. “Local people are the first to know when a fire starts. It is important that the state and Centre work together to amend forest policies and involve local people in conservation efforts. Water holes can be created and trees planted to retain greater moisture in the forest. That would prevent fires from spreading. People should also be allowed access to fuel and fodder from the forest to keep their relationship with it alive.”
Suresh Bhai of the Nadi Bachao Andolan said once locals are alienated from the forest, the mafia finds it easier to operate. “Trees are deliberately burnt, and then permission is sought to remove burnt trees and sell them. These nefarious activities are curtailed when people are more active in managing forests.”
Suresh Bhai said the chief minister too expressed anguish that half the budget allocated for fire-fighting in forests has not been released. “Had the budget been allocated to van panchayats before the beginning of the fire season in February, the panchayats would have been able to take preventive measures in time,” he said.