Sambalpur: Local residents expressed their deep concern Saturday after wildfires recently erupted in four forests including Godloisingh, Jujumura, Basiapada and Bhimkhoj under Sadar range of Sambalpur.
Despite bringing it to the knowledge of Forest officials in the district, the latter seems to have taken no step to douse the blazes that pose serious threat to the wild animals and people living in adjoining villages, the residents alleged.
The forest fire was witnessed even in Dhama and Padia Bahal under Sambalpur division, including Sadar range.
“It is a gross negligence on part of forest officials concerned. Usually due to man-made causes, wildfires are seen every year from the middle of March to April end. Even as the department is quite aware of it, a number of forests in Sambalpur are still on fire,” some of the local residents rued.
According to a source, several Vana Surakhya Samitis (VSSs) were earlier formed with a view to restore lost forest covers as well as to protect existing forests in the district.
Members of the Samitis were trained and provided with fire-fighting equipment for effective and real time control of wildfires.
Odisha government spends lakhs of rupees for the purpose and even then the target is not met due to embezzlement of the funds. Most of the times, Forest officials blame it on the public.
Besides, setting any forest on fire is a criminal offence and hence punishable. Neither the Samitis, nor the Forest department personnel seem to be discharging their duties and responsibilities properly.
When contacted, Sambalpur divisional forest officer (DFO) Biswanath Nilambar said, “Provisions of special squads have already been made at range levels for dousing fires and around 80 percent of the wildfire has been brought under control.”
On the other hand, some residents also alleged that few unscrupulous personnel of the department themselves have set the forests on fire with some evil intentions.
Forest department has been divided into two factions. Kendu leaf and territorial divisions lack proper coordination among them. The Kendu leaf division is asking people to set the forests ablaze, in order to enhance its production.
On the contrary, territorial division spends lakhs of rupees towards wildfire control, the locals stated.
Reacting to this, Rairakhole DFO Ramakant Nayak admitted it saying, “Some employees of the Kendu leaf division are behind the inferno. Recently, we had arrested two of them for torching forests.
They did this with an intention to get good yield of Kendu leaves.” However, territorial division in Sambalpur district is keeping strict vigil on the situation.
Legal action will be taken whosoever will be found at fault, Nayak asserted. It is pertinent to mention, tribals often set forests on fire to facilitate plucking of Kendu leaves and Mahula flowers in summer.
Action can be taken against owner of a land located near a forest. Trenches are often dug to prevent the spread of forest fire and special squads are deployed too for surveillance.
The squads are provided with patrolling vehicles and advanced GPS systems. Forest department is equipped with the radar and satellite systems to keep strict vigil on wrongdoers.
Detecting the specific patches of a forest ablaze is not difficult these days.
As per Forest department, wildfire erupted in 1,700 places in the state last year and has been reported from 279 places this year.