Supreme Court to examine if Uttarakhand’s approach to forest fires is ‘lackadaisical’

The issues highlighted in the hearing include the release of only a little over ?3.10 crore by the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority for 2023-24 when the Centre had allotted ?9.13 crore

Updated - May 15, 2024 09:28 pm IST

Published - May 15, 2024 03:30 pm IST - NEW DELHI

An NDRF personnel tries to control a fire that broke out in the forest of Uttarakhand’s Pauri Garhwal district on May 14, 2024.

An NDRF personnel tries to control a fire that broke out in the forest of Uttarakhand’s Pauri Garhwal district on May 14, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on Wednesday decided to examine if the Uttarakhand government had adopted a “lackadaisical” approach to dousing forest fires which took innocent lives and destroyed forest cover in the ecologically fragile Himalayan slopes.

A Bench headed by Justice B.R. Gavai has sought a response from the Uttarakhand Chief Secretary on the level of preparedness of the State in the face of forest fires, which have been a recurring phenomenon in recent years.

Explained | Why Uttarakhand is prone to forest fires

The issues highlighted in the hearing include the release of only a little over ?3.10 crore by the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority for 2023-24 when the Centre had allotted ?9.13 crore; the alleged diversion of forest officials and fire personnel for election work; vacancies in the Forest Department; measures taken to prevent the burning of pine needles; and efforts taken so far to release the State Disaster Management Fund.

The court listed the case for detailed hearing on May 17.

In the previous hearing, the court had snubbed the State government, saying rain gods or cloud-seeding would not douse the forest fires which claimed five lives.

The State had downplayed the forest blaze in court, assuring that the emergency was over. “We don’t know. But we will surely examine if the emergency is over or not,” Justice Gavai had replied.

The Uttarakhand government submitted that forest fires were not peculiar to Uttarakhand. “All over the world there are forest fires… There is a peak every four years,” the State counsel had said.

The State said only 0.1% of the wildlife cover was on fire although reports claimed 40% of Uttarakhand was ablaze.

It had said the forest fires were caused solely by humans. The State has maintained a high level of vigilance. The government counsel said there have been 398 incidents of forest fires since November 2023. The State has registered 350 criminal cases and 62 people have been named in them. The punishment, if found guilty, is up to two years imprisonment.

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