The Supreme Court on Wednesday decided to examine if the Uttarakhand government had adopted a “lackadaisical” approach to dousing forest fires which took innocent lives and destroyed forest cover in the ecologically fragile Himalayan slopes.

A Bench headed by Justice BR Gavai sought a response from the Chief Secretary on the level of preparedness of the State in the face of forest fires, a recurring phenomenon in recent years.

The issues highlighted in the hearing include the release of only a little over ₹3.10 crore by the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority for 2023-24 when the Centre had allotted ₹9.13 crore; the alleged diversion of forest officials and fire personnel for election work; vacancies in the forest department; measures taken to prevent the burning of pine needles and efforts taken so far to release the State Disaster Management Fund.

The court listed the case for detailed hearing on May 17.

In the previous hearing the court had snubbed the State government, saying rain gods or cloud-seeding would not douse the forest fires which claimed five lives.

‘DOWNPLAYED’

The State had downplayed the forest blaze in court, assuring that the emergency was over.

“We don’t know. But we will surely examine if the emergency is over or not,” Justice Gavai had replied.

The Uttarakhand government submitted that forest fires were not peculiar to Uttarakhand.

“All over the world there are forest fires… There is a peak every four years,” the State counsel had said.

The State said only 0.1 per cent of the forest cover was on fire though reports claimed 40 per cent of Uttarakhand was ablaze.

It had said the forest fires were caused solely by humans. The State has maintained a high level of vigilance. The government counsel said there has been 398 incidents of forest fires since November 2023. The State has registered 350 criminal cases and 62 people have been named in them. The punishment, if found guilty, is up to two years’ imprisonment.

comment COMMENT NOW