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Have made sincere efforts to control forest fires: Govt to SC

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By Our Staff Reporter

Dehradun, 17 May: In a hearing held today, the Supreme Court heard the case related to forest fires in Uttarakhand. The State was represented by Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta and Deputy Advocate General of Uttarakhand State Jatinder Kumar Sethi. The Central Empowered Committee was represented by advocates Parmeshwarate and Ashwariya Bhati while Additional Solicitor General of India represented the Central Government. As directed by the Court, the Chief Secretary of the State accompanied by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Addl. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests were present.

A report prepared by the office of the Chief Secretary was presented to the Court detailing the utilisation of CAMPA funds for FY 2023-24 whereby it was informed that the entire funding was utilised for various fire prevention and firefighting measures. For the FY 2024-25, out of the National CAMPA sanctioned Rs 10.00 Crores, and of this, an amount of Rs 5.25 Crores was released for firefighting measures so far while the remaining amount of Rs 4.75 crores is ear-marked for carrying out forest fire prevention and control works to be implemented in winter months before next fire season, 2025.

During the hearing at the Supreme Court, the state also informed the court about various steps taken by the State Govt. for the release of SDMF funds for forest fire fighting in the State. The Secretary, Disaster Management had issued orders to the DMs to allocate Rs 50 Lakhs per district for emergency purchase of fire-fighting equipment and take the support of NDRF/ SDRF as and when required. Further untied funds have been utilized for deputing personnel along with vehicles during the fire season.

It was also informed that the state had regular meetings and directions from Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary, Forest, Secretary, Disaster Management and all wings of the Government such as Fire Services, Police, SDRF, and Disaster QRTs etc were involved. District Magistrate (DMs) constituted the incidence response teams (IRTs) headed by SDMs to ensure the participation of the line departments for forest fire mitigation.

The State further informed the Court that urgent steps were being taken for filling up of the vacant posts at the field level in the Forest Department and the Uttarakhand Public Services Commission (UKPSC) and Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission (UKSSSC) were actively working on this.

The State also detailed the steps being taken to control fires from pine needles and that the State Government has notified a policy for electricity generation from Pirul (Pine needles) and other biomass. For promoting the collection of Chir Pirul, funds for collection are being provided to the local collectors and it was exempted from transit fees. Moreover Pirul has been collected and supplied to the units for making briquettes/pellets and for electricity generation with engagement with NTPC.

It may be recalled that in the last hearing, the SC had questioned why forest department employees were deputed on election duty, to which the state today submitted its response that no field level official from the wildlife sanctuaries or reserved forests or senior IFS officers were engaged in election duty. Those who had been engaged were also withdrawn in view of forest fires.

The Court was also provided with the details of fire-fighting equipment provided to fire fighters to douse forest fires and 40,184 different fire fighting equipment have been provided to the field crew teams of the 1429 crew stations in the State. Moreover under the World bank Assisted Uttarakhand Disaster preparedness and resilient Project (U-PREPARE) 27151 firefighting equipment (fire proximity suits, shoes, helmets, fire proof gloves, water bottles, head lights, first aid kits and GPS) are being procured.

According to the state sources, the Supreme Court was satisfied with the state’s response and urged all concerned to work together and work out an effective strategy for firefighting in future. The next hearing will be held in September now.