- A joint report by Ministry of Forests, Environment and Climate Change (MoFECC) and World Bank reflects on how forest fires are deterring India’s efforts to meet its climate change goals.
- About the report:
- The report titled ‘Strengthening Forest Fire Management in India’ underscores need for comprehensive national policy and guidelines.
- The report discusses policies on forest fire prevention and management (FFPM) at national, state and local levels with national and international best practices in FFPM and need for comprehensive national policy and guidelines.
- It provides recommendations on five broad themes – policy, institutions and capacity, technology, community engagement and data and information.
- Key findings of the report:
- Though India has managed to increase its forest cover to over 20 percent of its total geographical area, forest fires are still a leading cause of degradation of the forest cover in the country.
- About 70 per cent of the forest area in India experiences forest fire.The report cited an estimate that nearly 49,000 sq km of forests were burnt in 2014.
- Frequency and area of forest fires:In terms of frequency of forest fires, 16 of the top 20 districts are in the Northeast. And in terms of area, almost half of the affected area is in just 20 districts; the largest affected area is in Central India.
- Region wise data: Two-thirds of the country’s forest cover is concentrated in two regions, the Northeast accounting for 36% and Central India (28%).
- District wise data: The top 20 districts in terms of area affected by fire(2003-2016) account for 48 per cent of the total fire-affected area, the report found. However, these 20 districts account for only 16% of India’s forest cover (and 3% of the land area).
- Of the 20 districts, 5 are in Mizoram, 4 in Manipur, 3 in Meghalaya and 2 each in Assam and Tripura. The 4 districts outside the NE are in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh (2) and Odisha.
- In the Northeast, forest fires tend to be concentrated in a smaller area that is subjected to repeated burning. The peak fire season is most concentrated (shortest) in the Northeast and the Northern state of Bihar. Fires in other regions, particularly districts in Central and Southern India, are more expansive.
- Regeneration is either inadequate or absent in about 45 percent of all forest areas and about 95 percent of all forest plots show some signs of degradation.
4. Reasons for forest fires:
- India’s monsoons: Monsoons are largely responsible for the seasonal nature of forest fires in India. The forest fires peak during the dry months of March or April before the arrival of the monsoon, and the fire season mainly occurs during the four-month period between February 15 and May 15.
- Dry and moist deciduous forest: Districts experiencing widespread and frequent forest fires include areas of dry and moist deciduous forest in the borderlands of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and Telangana that are affected by fire on a nearly annual basis, according to the report.
- Administrative shortfalls:
- Shortage of dedicated funding for FFPM: The CAG report in 2017 pointed out that shortages of equipment, accessories and vehicles required for fire-fighting in the fire season ranged from 31 to 100 per cent while shortage of manpower ranged from 16 to 55 per cent in cadres of foresters and forest guards.
- Meagre budgetary support: MoEFCC report noted that during massive forest fire of 2016 in Uttarakhand, the state government sanctioned merely ₹22 crore, against the demand of ₹446 crore made by the state forest department.
- Institutional disincentives and under-reporting: According to MoEFCC, the field officers who report large fires may create additional work for themselves and their superiors in filing and prosecuting a forest offense, and the department may receive less financing which leads to under-reporting of forest fires.
- Collection of non-timber forest products (NTFPs): Humans cause the most number of forest fires, with negligence and the collection of NTFPs in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Telangana being the catalysts.
- Jhum Fire (for Shifting Cultivation): Shifting cultivation is the main reason for fire incidents in NE. In central states, harvesting of mahua flowers for making local wine and extraction of tendu leaves for making bidis result in wildfires.
- Pine: Pine trees have contributed to forest fires in western Himalayan states. The needles of pine trees can easily catch fire. The worst blazes occurred in areas abundant in pine trees.
5. Significance of the report:
- The findings of the report are crucial for India’s own commitment to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.
- According to scientists from National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), fires affecting forests have significant ecological value.
- Between 2006 and 2015, NRSC scientists forest fires were detected in just under half (281 of 614) of protected areas in India. In 2014, fires burned about 8.6 % of forest cover in protected areas.
- It is also expected to be key input in issuing National policy on Forest Fire Prevention and Management (FFPM).
- District-level analyses for data from 2003 to 2016 also show that the monsoon can give an early warning of severity of the next year’s fire. A district that experiences slightly higher rainfall than its long-term average during the monsoon is likely to experience fewer fires the following year.
6. Way forward:
- Aggressive strategy: Forest fires can be controlled by using an aggressive strategy that includes incentivising communities and forest departments for preventing forest fires.
- Community sensitisation: Bring a social movement to prevent forest fires by reporting to the communities the findings of report that are getting impacted by it and apprising them of ways they can adapt to prevent such fires.