The Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal has given one month to the Kerala Forest Department for submitting its report on the steps taken to prevent forest fires and implement the National Action Plan on Forest Fire in the State.
About National Action Plan on Forest Fire
- National Action Plan on Forest Fires (NAPFF) was launched in 2018 to minimise forest fires by informing, enabling and empowering forest fringe communities and incentivising them to work with the State Forest Departments.
- The plan also intends to substantially reduce the vulnerability of forests across diverse forest ecosystems in the country against fire hazards.
- It also aims to enhance capabilities of forest personnel and institutions in fighting fires and swift recovery subsequent to fire incidents.
Forest Fire Prevention and Management Scheme
- The Forest Fire Prevention and Management Scheme (FPM) is the only centrally funded program specifically dedicated to assist the states in dealing with forest fires.
- The FPM replaced the Intensification of Forest Management Scheme (IFMS) in 2017. By revamping the IFMS, the FPM has increased the amount dedicated for forest fire work.
- Funds allocated under the FPM are according to a centre-state cost-sharing formula, with a 90:10 ratio of central to state funding in the Northeast and Western Himalayan regions and a 60:40 ratio for all other states.
- It also provides the states to have the flexibility to direct a portion of the National Afforestation Programme (NAP) and Mission for Green India (GIM) funding toward forest fire work.
What happens when a ‘forest fire’ occurs?
- When a fire is detected by NASA’s MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) and VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) satellites, the Forest Survey of India (FSI) analyses the data by overlaying the digitised boundaries of forest areas to pinpoint the location to the exact forest compartment.
- The FSI relays news of the fire to the concerned State, so that the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) in charge of the forest where the fire is raging is informed.
- A few years ago, the time lapse between spotting the fire and the news reaching the DFO was five to six hours, but this has been reduced to about two hours recently.
- The frequency of the two satellites orbiting the earth has also been increased from twice daily to once in three hours.
What should be our approach?
- There are various approaches to fighting forest fires.
- The first is what may be called technological, where helicopters or ground-based personnel spray fire retardant chemicals, or pump water to fight the blaze. These are expensive methods and make sense when one is protecting a human community, but are usually not practised in India.
- The second is to contain the fire in compartments bordered by natural barriers such as streams, roads, ridges, and fire lines along hillsides or across plains. A fire line is a line through a forest which has been cleared of all vegetation. The width depends on the type of forest being protected. Once the blaze has burnt out all combustibles in the affected compartment, it fizzles out and the neighbouring compartments are saved.
- The third is to set a counter fire, so that when a fire is unapproachable for humans, a line is cleared of combustibles and manned. One waits until the wildfire is near enough to be sucking oxygen towards it, and then all the people manning the line set fire to the line simultaneously. The counter fire rushes towards the wildfire, leaving a stretch of burnt ground. As soon as the two fires meet, the blaze is extinguished.
- The fourth approach, which is the most practical and most widely used, is to have enough people with leafy green boughs to beat the fire out. This is practised in combination with fire lines and counter fires.
- Lastly, while communication and response time have been cut down, the actual numbers of Forest Department personnel that are sent to put out fires are woefully inadequate. We need to vastly increase the number of firefighters as well as equip them properly to mitigate the damage. Seasonal labour could be contracted during the fire season. With adequate training, they would serve to fill gaps along the line. Local villagers would be the best resource.