Wildfires burnt 6,533 hectares of forest: RTI

The RTI query by Mumbai-based environment group Watchdog Foundation revealed data on forest fires across Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Kolhapur, Nashik and Aurangabad regions from 2015 to 2019.

Wildfires burnt 6,533 hectares of forest: RTI

According to the Maharashtra Forest Department’s response to a Right To Information (RTI) query, the city witnessed 1,110 forest fires which burned down 6,533 hectares over five years. The loss of forest resources has been quantified at ₹90 crore. 

The RTI was filed by Watchdog Foundation, a Mumbai-based environment group which showed the data of fires in Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Kolhapur, Nashik and Aurangabad regions from 2015 to 2019. Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), Borivli, protected and reserved forests of the Tungareshwar wildlife sanctuary up to Tansa, including the Karnala bird sanctuary and Phansad wildlife sanctuary were most prone to forest fires.

Forest officials said that more than 95 per cent forest fires in the state are caused due to man-made reasons for agricultural and land acquisition purposes. Small fires can rejuvenate forest undergrowth and reduce soil nutrients, but man-made fires have an adverse effect on flora and fauna and can lead to soil erosion.

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As stated in Hindustan Times, Shailesh Tembhurnikar, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (APCCF - conservation), state forest department said that they are monitoring fires with digitised maps from the Forest Survey of India (FSI) with real-time alerts being sent to their staff. Their efforts have reduced fires by 50 per cent over five years.

However, the forest department’s data showed a 119 per cent increase in fires from 2015 to 2018 in Mumbai, while SGNP alone recorded a 309 per cent rise during this time. Notably, in forests like SGNP there is a threat from revenge fires by locals and tribes. If arrests are made for violations or land disputes, fires are lit as an act of retaliation.

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