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Dipti Ranjan Das

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Thursday asked the State Forest department officials to prepare an integrated plan to curb cases of forest fires. Here’s why!

According to Forest Survey of India report by the Ministry of Environment, Odisha reported 51,968 forest fires between November 2020 and June 2021, which was the highest in the country during the period.

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After Odisha, the states that posted maximum forest fires were Madhya Pradesh (47,795) & Chhattisgarh (38,106). Amongst districts, maximum number of forest fires was observed in Gadchiroli in Maharashtra (10,577) and Odisha’s Kandhamal (6156).

As per the long-term trend analysis performed by the FSI, nearly 10.66% area of Forest cover in India is categorised under “extremely to very highly fire prone zone”. In this regard, parts of Central Odisha show patches of extremely to very highly fire prone zone. According to the report, around 5157 sq km of forest area in the State comes under extremely to very highly fire prone zone. Additionally, western parts of Maharashtra, southern part of Chhattisgarh are also extremely vulnerable to forest fires.

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On Thursday, Odisha CM asked forest officers to prepare a concrete roadmap for improving the health of jungles in the State and enhance the living standards of the villagers dwelling in the fringe areas of forests. In March and April 2021, the phrase “Simlipal is burning” trended worldwide spurring widespread criticism against Odisha government. However, State Chief Conservator of Forests, Shashi Paul downplayed the outrage and cited the forest fires as an annual occurrence in the state.

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The situation points towards deficiencies in the State’s forest fire control and planning even though there seems to be no shortage of financial resources to effectively manage forest fires. According to environmentalists, the rise in forest fires shows that the State forest department is not alert. Since the alerts were issued based on satellite images, a readymade plan of action by the State Forest department could have averted the spreading of the fire to new areas but it wasn't. The spread also revealed that the fire lines were not maintained properly.

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