Despite the menace of forest fires plaguing several areas in the state in the last few weeks, the state’s Forest Department has been constrained in appointing ‘fire watchers’ because of cuts in funding from the central government.
“The driest months are from November onwards and, with the setting in of the windy season, this problem has escalated everywhere in the last two-three weeks,” Chief Conservator of Forests, B Shangdiar, told Highland Post today.
“This year we cannot appoint numerous fire watchers since the central funds received under the Forest Fire Control and Management Scheme has also been deducted this year and we received just more than Rs 90 lakh, approximately, which is very little compared to the sanction received in previous years,” he said.
Ninety per cent of the funds under this scheme are provided by the Centre, with the rest borne by the state government. Under it 343 village forest fire control committees have been created in Meghalaya.
Most forest fires begin near roadsides or in places where people start fires to wash clothes and take baths, Shangdiar explained.
Another issue that ties the hands of the department is the fact that only 12 per cent of forests in the state are in the hands of the government (reserve forests, wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, etc), with the rest falling under private land. Penalties can only be imposed on those who start fires on government land.
“We can only appeal to the traditional institutions to issue strict warnings and take action against burning of the forest by people under their jurisdiction and assist the district councils in this problem,” he said.
Shangdiar said that his department also carries out fire line cutting so that the spread of fires is limited as well as information campaigns.
“We have also entrusted North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU) and the Rain Forest Research Institute, Jorhat, to conduct a study on the impact fires have on forests and the entire environment,” he added.
Meanwhile, he informed that the department has also completed the process of identification of trees that pose a threat to human lives and property, including those close to electricity lines.
However, Shangdiar expressed that this job is made difficult because trees can sometimes look healthy on the outside but be unpredictable, especially during the windy season.
“Keeping this in mind, we can only appeal to the public and vehicles to avoid venturing into such places with several huge trees during the windy season because Mother Nature can be very unpredictable sometimes,” he stated.