Forest fires lit by villagers to collect mahua – a wild flower used for making country liquor – is posing to be a threat to the flora and fauna in Jharkhand jungles, claim forest officials who are conducting extensive campaigns to douse “man-made forest fires” in suburban Ranchi and other parts of the state.
Mahua, which grows in abundance in the forest areas of Jharkhand, falls off the trees during spring. However, these flowers are often covered by a layer of dry leaves, which make it difficult for villagers to find and collect Mahua. Villagers set forest areas afire to clear the leaves and easily spot mahua flowers, which are unaffected by fire, forest officials said.
“We hardly get to hear about incidents of natural forest fire in Jharkhand. In most cases, the forest fire is caused by villagers, who are either looking for mahua or are simply careless about throwing cigarette butts in the forest,” said Ranchi district forest officer Ashok Dubey.
Dubey said the forest department responded promptly to satellite alerts about forest fires and try to douse them at the earliest. Forest officials and village committees work together for dousing forest fires in the interiors of the state, he added.
Several incidents of forest fire were reported from Mahilong in Ranchi district this month, said Dubey, who has been running awareness campaigns in the villages to prevent forest fires for the collection of Mahua.
While forest officials say that animals find their way to escape such forest fires, environmentalists believe that birds are worst-affected by the fire. Nitish Priyadarshi, a Ranchi environmentalist who recently visited areas around Sita Fall, said several birds' nests were affected by man-made forest fires and the carbon dioxide level was increasing significantly around forest areas, causing an abnormal rise in temperature.
“It was so hot in the forest area that I could almost feel a burning sensation on my skin. You can well imagine how badly it is affecting the wide variety of birds living in the jungle,” said Priyadarshi.
He said that the rise in the mercury level in Ranchi could also be partially attributed to forest fire in the surrounding jungles. “We are feeling the need to switch on our air conditioners in the first half of March itself. It might get worse from here,” the environmentalist warned.
As per data with the Meteorological Centre in Ranchi, the highest temperature in Ranchi was 34.2 degree Celsius while that in Jamshedpur was 36.4 degree Celsius on Sunday.
Priyadarshi also pointed out lapses in the functioning of the forest department, which could be leading to forest fires. The department, he said, did not demarcate areas where mahua trees grow, which left villagers clueless about where they would find Mahua in abundance.
“When villagers don’t know where they might find Mahua, they might even set fire to forest areas where there are no Mahua trees,” Priyadarshi said.