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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: Here is a shocker. When Odisha could add mere 273.51 square Km (sq km) of forest area between 2017 and 2019, the State has lost a massive 310.15 sq km forest area to forest fires during the same period.

The big howler emerged here is Odisha has topped the country with most number of forest fires for the last 3-years. As per the data available with Doon-based Forest Survey of India, Odisha had recorded fire incidents totaling 36,287 in 2017, 31,680 in 2018 and 19,787 in 2019. The consequence is the fires had affected 14,121 hectares in 2017, 9,730 hectares in2018 and 7,164 hectares in 2019.

Despite the looming clouds over forest cover in Odisha, the tragedy is the State Forest Department is yet to hold the annual preparatory meet this year, when the forest fire season has already commenced in the State from March.

The preparatory meet seems more imperative, when Odisha is the only state where people, forest dwellers and arsonists, play the lead role in forest fires. Even, Ignorance has also emerged as another major player in triggering forest fires in Odisha.

Another big revelation to fore is Odisha forest department has not commissioned any study to quantify the loss value of the forest cover in the areas affected by fires, when almost all the major states in the country quantify the loss in value terms.

As per a World Bank study, it has been observed that the forest fire season in Odisha starts from March, peaks in April and ends by May. The fire season has been estimated so by taking the forest fire incidents during the period of 2003-2016.  The same WB study has further stated that significant increase in detection of fire incidents have been observed in Odisha during the period of 2003-16.

Data available shows that Odisha had recorded as many as 230 large fire incidents in 2019 during the period of January - June. As per the Forest Survey of India report 2019, a high of over 40 per cent of forest area in Odisha are very highly to moderately prone to forest fires; whereas nearly 3 per cent forest area are extremely vulnerable to forest fires.

A district-wise look shows a high of 5-districts account for the maximum of fire incidents in the State. The 5 districts of Kandhamal, Ganjam, Gajapati, Malkangiri and Rayagada have been identified by the forest department as most vulnerable to forest fires.

Besides,  forest areas in districts of Sunderagrh, Keonjhar and Deoghar are also considered as extremely vulnerable to forest fires in the State.

 

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