By Meera Bhardwaj
The Karnataka Forest Department (KFD) has written to the State Government to take strict action against senior and junior forest officials for the horrendous forest fire that occurred in Bandipur National Park this February.
Further, the department has recommended to the state government that funds that were misused for fire line work should be recovered from officials responsible – right from APCCF (Project Tiger) to the then Park Director to ACF to RFOs. The KFD has cited two reasons for the massive fire – poor quality of fire line work and complete misuse of funds.
As per senior forest official Jha’s inquiry report which was submitted a few weeks back, in three to four wildlife ranges of the tiger reserve, no fire lines were drawn. Even the fire lines that were drawn were of sub-standard quality and it was just 3-4 meters wide instead of 10 meters. In some places, the fire lines were less than 3 meters, he stated. The report said there was no proper fire lines drawn during the fire season and whatever was drawn across Bandipur, they were neither effective nor of any use.
KFD sources added, “Expenditure made on fire lines is infructuous and therefore, should be recovered from officials. Even Jha’s inquiry into the fire incident in April was found superficial and so we asked the Vigilance department to make a detailed inquiry. They are yet to submit their report.”
Meanwhile, source said they had delayed the inquiry as forest staff was still fighting fire on the ground and any inquiry would have demoralized the staff. But once Jha’s report was submitted, it was sent to the Wildlife Wing for its response who took their own time. But in the meantime, the KFD sent an interim report to the state government recommending action against forest officials and recovery of dues from them. The department stated that APCCF (Project Tiger), the then Bandipur Director, ACFs and RF0s concerned – all were responsible for the fire. They cited two reasons for the massive fire that destroyed thousands of hectares – firstly, poor and faulty fire line work and misuse of funds.
Sources in KFD told Green Minute that action has to be taken and funds recovered from concerned officials. They added, “Conditions in Bandipur this year was the same as last year and there was nothing unusual. Every year, we face rising temperatures, dried up surroundings, vanishing water sources and thick lantana bushes as also miscreants setting fire due to revengeful attitude or hatred towards forest officials. Rs 1.45 crore was spent on fire line drawing but on ground, nothing much was visible. Previous year too, we faced the same situation and the forest did not burn but this year, it was reduced to cinders.”
Added to this, APCCF (Project Tiger) had given letter that there was no need to call for tenders as the amount was just Rs 5 lakh. Sources add, “This was wrong as it was not within his powers and making use of this, he did not call for tenders for fire line. He can only do for civil works as his rank does not allow for other works. We have to quantify the responsibility and elicit the huge loss of habitat and funds and this can be done only after vigilance report comes.”
BANDIPUR – KARNATAKA’S PRIDE
· Home to the largest density of tiger population in the country, the Bandipur Tiger Reserve was devastated by the worst ever fire in living memory that destroyed reportedly 7000 acres of protected land in February this year .
· Finally, the raging fire was contained by two IAF helicopters pouring 30,000 liters of water on the affected regions.
· Earlier to this, in 2012 and 2017, two devastating fires had destroyed the precious habitat. Experts cited lack of sound forest fire management plans as also lack of coordination meetings with village committees, tribal groups, NGOs, hospitality owners before the onset of summer.
· Further, the absence of proper leadership and politicization of the post of Bandipur director had led to the massive fire. In the background of this, the state government directed the forest department to hold an inquiry over lapses from all angles.