Thrissur: Forest fires are often reported in summer. As per the figures provided by the Kerala Forest Department, a total of 762.93 hectares of forest land in the State got gutted in 334 fire incidents so far from March last year. The reported wildfires are twice the number recorded the year before. Even as recurring wildfires continue to eat into the green cover over Kerala at an alarming rate, inflicting heavy losses, the Forest Department records on a regular basis show that only bushes, dry sprigs, creepers, dry leaves, and dry grass got destroyed in the fires and not trees!
The department has come up with a strange explanation that the conflagrations gut only dry grasslands and bush forests while ‘sparing’ trees, causing minimal loss of biodiversity.
The department condones the loss of forest trees for a reason. As per a provision in the rules the forest officials have to meet the losses out of their own pockets if the destruction of big trees in the blaze is shown in official records.
The officials are required to pay a huge sum as compensation for the loss of trees like teaks, which are worth lakhs as per the government seigniorage rates. (Seigniorage refers to the profit made by a government by selling its resources.)
The range officers are required to meet the liability if such loss recorded is over Rs 25,000 and higher officials if the same crosses the Rs 50,000 mark.
As per the Forest Department records, the wildfires across the state, including Thrissur and Wayanad districts, have caused only a meager loss of Rs 52,500. This is even as the actual loss on the ground amounts to lakhs.
In Thrissur district alone, major fire incidents were reported from nearly six forest regions, including Olakara, Pattikadu, and Elanadu, this year. Numerous big trees got burnt down in the huge fire that occurred at acacia fields in Mayannur.
Similarly, hundreds of trees, worth lakhs, got destroyed in many minor and major fire incidents this year alone, sources said, adding there were instances when wild animals belonging to endangered species were burnt to death. But still, the official records of the Forest Department show no loss of trees in the wildfires.