Forest fires: SC pitches for preventive steps; says cloud seeding, depending on rain god no solution

PTI, May 8, 2024, 6:15 PM IST

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said cloud seeding or ”depending on rain god” is not the answer to the raging forest fires in Uttarakhand and that authorities will have to take preventive measures to tackle the problem.

The Uttarakhand government apprised the apex court about the steps taken to control the forest fires and said 0.1 per cent of the wildlife cover in the state was on fire due to such incidents.

The state government told a bench of Justices B R Gavai and Sandeep Mehta that since November last year, there were 398 forest fires in Uttarakhand and five people were killed in such incidents.

Deputy Advocate General of Uttarakhand Jatinder Kumar Sethi told the court that all the fires were man-made. A total of 388 criminal cases have been lodged in connection with the forest fires, he said, adding that 60 people have been named in those.

”People say that 40 per cent of Uttarakhand is on fire, whereas 0.1 per cent of the wildlife cover was on fire. And all this was man-made. From November till today, we have 398 fires, all man-made,” the counsel said.

The court was hearing an application that has raised the issue of raging forest fires in Uttarakhand.

During the hearing, the bench told the state’s counsel, ”Cloud seeding or depending on the rain god is not the answer. He (applicant) is right in saying that you have to take preventive measures.” The state government placed before the bench an interim status report containing details of the various steps taken by authorities to deal with forest fires.

Sethi said helicopters of the Indian Air Force were also pressed into service to extinguish the fires.

”What is the number of human lives lost?” the bench asked.

The counsel said five people were killed due to the forest fires.

The bench sought to know how many animals were killed in such incidents.

The counsel said he will get the information and apprise the court.

A lawyer, who has filed an application for impleadment in the matter, told the bench that the state is painting a ”very rosy picture” but media reports claim that the entire machinery involved in tackling forest fires is busy in election-related work.

”The state of affairs is pathetic. People who go to douse the fires do not even have proper equipment,” he said.

Another counsel appearing in the matter said entire forests are covered with pine trees and that is the reason behind forest fires.

”The British may have introduced them but now their produce is being used by the country. We cannot eliminate those trees. And they cannot grow in the lower reaches,” the bench observed, adding that no one is disputing that forest fires are a ”serious problem”.

It also referred to a recent news report on the possibility of rains in Uttarakhand.

The state’s counsel said forest fires are not just peculiar to Uttarakhand but are reported from across the world.

The bench posted the matter for further hearing on May 15.

While hearing a petition on forest fires in 2019, the apex court had observed that such incidents pose a serious problem in hill states, especially during summer, and the reason is the presence of a large number of pine trees, which are highly flammable.

It was hearing a plea moved by advocate Rituparn Uniyal seeking urgent steps to protect forests, wildlife and birds from wild fires in Uttarakhand, saying the number of such blazes has increased over the years and these incidents cause massive damage to the environment.

The petition has sought directions to the Centre, the Uttarakhand government and the principal chief conservator of forests in the hill state for making pre-fire arrangements and framing a policy to prevent such incidents.

”Forest fires in Uttarakhand have been a regular and historic feature. Every year, forest fires in Uttarakhand cause great loss to the forest ecosystem, diversity of flora and fauna and economic wealth. Forest fire is one of the major disasters in the forests of Uttarakhand,” the plea has said.

It has added that forests and wildlife are the most important natural resources and play a significant role in human life and environment.

”Forests are socially and environmentally interlinked with the people in the hilly areas, and play an important role in the economic welfare and development of the region,” it has said.

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