The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to urgently hear petitions on Uttarakhand forest fires on May 8 even as petitioners said 90 per cent of the blazes were “man-made.”

A Bench headed by Justice BR Gavai instructed the petitioners, including senior advocate Rajiv Dutta, to inform the amicus curiae, advocate K Parameshwar.

Uttarakhand government, represented by its Deputy Advocate General, said he would be present in person for the hearing and sought permission to file a status report by the next hearing.

Dutta said the situation was “shocking.” “There is carbon flying all over the place,” he submitted.

He said the Uttarakhand government had filed a report in the National Green Tribunal which claimed the number of incidents of fires were “going down.”

900 fire incidents

Justice Gavai said the amicus could also have the Central Empowered Committee in on the next hearing.

News reports quote officials saying that there had been over 900 incidents of fires in the past six months, damaging at least 1,100 hectares of forest land in Uttarakhand.

Reports inform that 351 cases related to “man-made” forest fires were registered, implicating 59 named individuals and 290 unidentified suspects.

Since November 1, 2023, a total of 575 forest fire incidents across nearly 690 hectares were cited in the State.

The petitions highlighting the extent of forest fires in Uttarakhand have been pending in the Supreme Court for years.

In January 2021, the court had agreed to examine a plea to direct the Uttarakhand government to take measures to prevent the occurrences of forest fires causing large-scale destruction of flora and fauna in the hill State.

One of these petitions, filed by Uttarakhand resident Rituparn Uniyal, had wanted the entire wildlife in the region to be declared a living entity.

Ecological imbalance

“It is the need of the hour that the concept of legal/juristic personality needs a wide interpretation to include in it the whole ecosystem with both biotic and abiotic components of the environment. Animals breathe like us and have emotions, intelligence, culture, language, memory and co-operation,” the plea had said.

Uniyal had alleged that despite a consistent history of forest fires, “the ignorance, inactiveness, negligence and unreadiness of the respondents have rendered a great loss to forests, wildlife and birds in Uttarakhand and thus, caused ecological imbalance”.

He had asked the top court to frame a policy to prevent forest fires in the State and make pre-fire arrangements.