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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Pune forest and hill fires: All-agency coordination meeting, night patrols on cards

Retired forest officer Prabhakar Kukdolkar said, “Most of the forest and hill fires in our area are the results of human error, negligence or deliberate act. Hilly area around Pune report fires almost every year causing great loss of biodiversity".

By: Express News Service | Pune |
Updated: February 12, 2021 1:52:10 am
Pune forest and hill fires: All agency coordination meeting, night patrols on cardsLarge stretches of dry vegetation on the hills near Katraj tunnel on the outskirts of Pune city were gutted by the fire on Wednesday night. (Express Photo)

WITH more occurrence of forest and hill fires likely in coming drier months, forest officials in Pune have said that a coordination meeting of various stakeholder agencies and night patrol by forest teams were on cards for better tackling of such issues in the future.

Over the last one week, two major incidents of fire on hills in and around Pune have been reported. On February 6, a large patch of forest was gutted on the Sus hill. On Wednesday night, a larger fire was reported on a hill next to Katraj tunnel and Shindewadi. On Thursday, a hill fire of a much smaller scale was reported in the Hinjewadi area.

Pune has a large number of hills in various parts of the city like Tukai hill in Pashan-Baner, Chatushrungi Hill, Vetal Hill, Parvati Hill, Taljai Hill, hills in Hadapsar, and also some in the Pimpri-Chinchwad jurisdiction. Katraj also has large tracts of hills. The patches of the forest on the upper plateaus of these hills in most cases are demarcated as reserved forests under the control of the state forest department. While the slopes of these hills are mostly privately owned or are under revenue department in some cases, some of the hill slopes have also witnessed illegal construction activities or encroachment.

There is a provision of setting up Urban Joint Forest Management Committees, which have representatives from the forest department, local civic body, citizens, and other local government departments, to monitor the forest lands in urban areas. Forest department officials accept the fact that while these committees do exist officially, most of them are not functional due to various reasons, including non-availability of funds and lack of interest shown by various agencies.

Deputy Conservator of Forest for Pune, Rahul Patil said, “On the issue of forest fires in urban areas and on the hills, we are soon going to hold a coordination meeting of various stakeholders including forest department, civic bodies, fire brigades, local residents and other agencies. The aim will be to achieve better coordination among ourselves so that there is a better and faster response to forest fires ensuring the least possible damage. We are also planning night patrols on a daily basis where our dedicated teams will patrol the forest fire-prone areas and try to ensure among other things that errors from various human activities do not lead to forest fires, especially on the hills.”

When asked whether the forest department is fully equipped, Patil said, “I won’t say we are not equipped. But yes more equipment can further increase our capabilities.”

Retired forest officer Prabhakar Kukdolkar said, “Most of the forest and hill fires in our area are the results of human error, negligence or deliberate act. Hilly area around Pune report fires almost every year causing great loss of biodiversity. Hence, this area should be declared as a highly fire-sensitive area, and accordingly, a special fire protection plan should be prepared and implemented every year with financial help from stakeholders. People’s active participation should also be a part of the plan. It is very essential that the local Urban Joint Forest Management Committees are active and functioning. Surveillance and early detection of fires is the key.”

Pandurang Bhujbal of Vasundhara Abhiyan Baner, a citizens’ collective working for Tukai Hill in Pashan-Baner area, said, “There is lack of interest shown by civic bodies and forest department in the matter of urban hills and forests. In many cases, citizens’ groups like ours have made efforts to control fires even at odd hours without help from any agency. Forest fire prevention is not work that you do in four months of the year. There has to be long-term planning, participation of all agencies coupled with people’s participation for local support. More concrete efforts are needed to ensure precious biodiversity is not lost in these fires.”

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