Coming down hard on the government for failing to prevent forest fires, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday has asked the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to formulate a national policy to prevent such incidents along with the States.

“The States of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, despite a semblance of Forest Fire Management Plans, have failed to take preventive steps required as a precautionary measure. The result is loss of forest biodiversity, degradation of environment and air quality in particular thereby affecting public health besides leading to a long-term effect of climate change,” the NGT said in its order.

The government has been told to formulate the first set of the policy within three months.

“The financial resources, manpower, transport/vehicle and fire fighting equipment should be made available to the Forest Department both at the State and district/division level, at the beginning of the financial year so that the Forest Fire Management Plan could be implemented in totality and effectively,” the Tribunal said in an order on Thursday.

It has also asked the government to ensure participation and cooperation of the local communities and prepare the Forest Fire Management Plan in partnership with the village-level panchayati raj institutions and van panchayats, that would be revised every year.

Uttarakhand had witnessed a massive forest fire in 2016 that devastated at least 3,500 hectares of forest area. Minor instances of forest fires recur almost every year.

Besides directing the government to ensure manpower and resource availability, NGT has asked it to make adequate use of technology to prevent incidents of forest fire, which have an impact on biodiversity, ambient air quality and general health and welfare of people.

“A network of automated surveillance or watch towers/observation posts should be set up at strategic locations to provide regularly, on a real time basis, data for forest fire alerts for timely interventions of fire incidences,” the order said.

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