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Special plans to avert forest fires

Ranchi, April 5: Jharkhand forests can hope to become fireproof this summer with the state forest department launching a series of initiatives to throw a safety ring around its green belt.

Although the period from mid-February to mid-June is most crucial for forests given the high chances of blazes, especially when it becomes too hot and dry, the extended winter with occasional showers till the middle of March have been able to keep things cool for some time.

The forest regions, which have been able to retain good amount of moisture, are taking time to absorb excessive heat.

Heat or no heat, forest divisions are not taking any chances and have already put in place contingency plans to keep the summer sparks at bay.

Lohardaga divisional forest officer A.K. Singh said that though his region didn’t have any major history of green patches catching fire during this season, they had already activated their local joint forest management (JFM) groups.

“From March, we started creating mandatory forest lines in our region as the first step to prevent fires. This apart, I have directed my officials to strengthen and reactivate their networks of local groups (JFMs) so that any sort of fire threat can be dealt with,” said Singh.

Likewise, Khunti division last month tied up with Koderma-based NGO Rashtriya Jharkhand Vikas Samiti to spread awareness about forest fires.

“We have constituted 200 JFMs in Khunti. For one month now, the NGO is daily conducting nukkad nataks, chaupals to educate villagers about the dos and don’ts of forest fires. Everyone is cooperating,” said Arjun Baraik, assistant conservator forests (ACF), Khunti.

Groundwork has also been taken care of.

“Creation of forest lines at sensitive spots is complete. Now, we are earmarking counter-fire zones in the vulnerable areas. Under this strategy, when a blaze occurs, a counter fire is lit up in these zones to neutralise the danger. Given Khunti’s topography, there are many big and small water holes that can be of help besides the fire brigade,” he said, adding 10 fire watchers had also been appointed on a daily payment basis.

Elephant and tiger abodes are also getting their plans ready. Palamau Tiger Reserve’s core area divisional forest officer Premjit Anand said about a dozen fire watchers had already been roped in.

“Fire lines of about 5 metres on both sides of the roads have been drawn up. All required initiatives are being taken to prevent fires,” said he.

An official at Dalma said some of the watchtowers were being repaired to use for fire surveillance.

“Routine works apart, we have held rounds of meetings with the villagers to make them co-operate with us. We are working on plans to reward villages with no forest fires. Toilets, drinking water facilities will be set up at these hamlets from eco-development funds. But plans are yet to be finalised,” he said.

Jharkhand has around 30 per cent of its total area covered with forests boasting half a dozen sanctuaries and national parks.