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the Supreme Court took up the matter of forest fires in Uttarakhand

In a hearing held today, the Supreme Court took up the matter of forest fires in Uttarakhand. The State was represented by Mr. Tushar Mehta Solicitor General of India and Mr. Jatinder Kumar Sethi, Deputy Advocate General for the State of Uttarakhand. Central Empowered Committee was represented by Mr Parmeshwar Advocate. Ms. Ashwariya Bhati Additional Solicitor General of India represented the Central Govt. As directed by the Court, the Chief Secretary of the State accompanied by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Addl. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests were present.

At the outset a report prepared by the office of the Chief Secretary was presented to the Court detailing the utilization of CAMPA funds for FY 2023-24 whereby it was shown that the entire funding was utilized for various fire prevention and firefighting measures. For the FY 2024-25, out of the National CAMPA sanctioned Rs. 10.00 Cr., Rs. 5.25 Cr. Stood released for firefighting measures. Remaining Rs. 4.75 Crores is ear-marked for carrying out forest fire prevention and control works to be implemented in winter months before next fire season, 2025.

The State also showed the court various steps taken by the State Govt. for the release of SDMF funds for forest fire fighting in the State. The Secretary, Disaster Management had issued orders to the DMs to allocate Rs. 50 Lakhs per district for emergency purchase of fire-fighting equipment and take the support of NDRF/ SDRF as and when required. Further untied funds have been utilized for deputing personnel along with vehicles during the fire season.

It was also stated that the state had regular meetings and directions from Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary, Forest, Secretary, Disaster Management and all wings of the Govt. such as Fire Services, Police, SDRF, and Disaster QRTs etc. were involved. District Magistrate (DMs) constituted the incidence response teams (IRTs) headed by SDMs to ensure the participation of the line departments for forest fire mitigation.

The State also informed the Court that urgent steps were being taken for filling up of the vacant posts at the field level in the Forest Department and the Uttarakhand Public Services Commission (UKPSC) and Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission (UKSSSC) were actively working on this.

The State also detailed the steps being taken to control fires from pine needles and that the State Govt. has notified a policy for electricity generation from Chir Pirul (Pine needles) and other biomass. For promoting the collection of Chir Pirul, Rs. 3/kg is being provided to the local collectors and it was exempted from transit fees. Moreover Chir Pirul has been collected and supplied to the units for making briquettes/pellets and for electricity generation with engagement with NTPC.

Regarding deployment of officials for election duty, it was shown that no field officials from Wildlife sanctuaries and National Parks and senior IFS officers were engaged in election duty and even the certain Field Officials of the Forest department engaged in election duty had resumed the forest fire control activities.

The Court was also shown the details of fire-fighting equipment provided to fire fighters to douse forest fires and 40184 different equipment’s have been provided to the field crew teams of the 1429 crew stations in the State. Moreover under the World bank Assisted Uttarakhand Disaster preparedness and resilient Project (U-PREPARE) 27151 firefighting equipment (fire proximity suits, shoes, helmets, fire proof gloves, water bottles, head lights, first aid kits and GPS) are being procured.

Being satisfied with the State’s response and appreciating the same, the Court asked all parties to sit together and work out a strategy for the future and adjourned the matter to September 2024.

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