Thiruvananthapuram: Even as the forest areas of Kerala are getting increasingly swallowed by huge forest fires this summer, the forest department is apprehensive that the fires may be more than 'accidental,' and doubts the hand of miscreants behind the wild fires.
It is pointed out that there were earlier incidents when people who had some scores to settle with the forest department, including the accused in cases related with the department or those engaged in land related litigation with the department, have instigated forest fires.
Though the current priority of the department is to combat the fires, there are moves to make further probes into the frequent bouts of forest fires this year.
The forest area under the Olavakkode circle of forest department in Palakkad district had suffered the biggest fire destruction all over the state this summer. Helicopters had to be summoned to put out the fires that spread over 500 acres of forest land in the Attappadi Range under Mannarkkad Division. The fire also wreaked havoc in Nenmara and Palakkad divisions. The Forest officials doubt that issues including the ganja cultivation and illicit brewing within the forest area as well as the presence of Maoists groups might have led miscreants to set fire to the forest areas in their attempts to settle scores with the Government and Forest Department.
Three people were already nabbed for setting fire to the Bandipur forest area close to Wayanad. The Department has charged a case of unnatural fire when 150 hectares of forest land got scorched in Banasura Hills of Wayanad this February, but no one has been arrested so far. Case has been registered against one person when 54 hectares of forest land in Batheri Wild Life Sanctury got torched. The fires that spread from the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu almost reached the tri-junction between the States of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu where the Muthanga and Bandipur Wildlife Sanctuaries meet. Here also the fires were put out with the help of helicopters.
The forest fires at Kannavam in Kannur district could be controlled quickly as it was spotted at the very beginning. The preliminary enquiries conducted by the department have revealed that the fires were set up deliberately. Small fires had broken out at Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary also.
Though fires had spread in the eastern parts of the district, the rain that fell last week helped control them. According to estimates, 13.7 hectares of forest land were scorched in Pathanapuram and Anchal Ranges under Punaloor forest division between last October and this month.
No severe incidents of fires have been reported from the forests in the district recently. Earlier, around 60 acres of grasslands had got torched in the top of Njayappilly hills within the Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary.
'Fire does not know forests'
Goutham Sarang (Son of Sarang Gopalakrishnan and Vijayalakshmi, alternate education activists of Attappady): They call it ‘forest fires.’ But, fire does not distinguish between forest land and human-occupied land. Once it starts burning, fire will swallow everything in its path. Have those who set the fires ever given a thought whether these flames would swallow someone’s home or whether it’d take the lives of people?