25,389, hectares of forests damaged by summer forest fires in Himachal- Nadda

Shimla: Indifferent attitude of people, deficient rain-snow over the winter and a prolonged summer were primarily responsible for many off the forest fires that devoured 25,389 hecatres of forests, which included some parts of wild life sanctuaries, JP Nadda, forest minister, disclosed in the Vidhan Sabha today.

During question hour congressmen Kaul Singh sought a new survey of the forest fire losses on the grounds that the government estimate of Rs 2.76 Cr did not appear realistic as high timber value oak and cedar forests also suffered damage.

However, the minister stood his ground stating that a effective mechanism was used to report, record and estimate the fire damages over the summer.

He said the role of foresters from merely recording them was changed to being in the forefront of containing the blazes. The long dry spell was responsible for low moisture in the forest soils which led to fires being reported for the first time in cedar and oak forests, said Nadda.

He resented that people had remained indifferent to containing the inferno’s and some had even started them.

“We have recorded 302 complaints which the department intends to convert into police reports besides the 65 FIR’s registered against people who are said to have started forest fires,” he said.

The government did release Rs 2.64 crore to joint forest management committee’s (JFMC) for fire fighting, he said.

The ‘Sanjha Van, Sanjeevani Van’ scheme launched on Sunday aimed at increasing community participation in protecting forests through JFMC’s. REs

In response to Gangu Ram Musafirs supplementary question about denial of Timber Distribution Rights (TD), pitching the local people against the forest department, the minister said that it was a problem which the government was trying to solve for the benefit of both the forests and the people.

To get the stay vacated in the High Court, the cabinet had formulated and approved a TD rights policy which had been submitted to the court. The rights would only be restored if the court approves of  the policy, he said.

In response to a question of bio project, the minister said the project design had been approved by both the state and central government and had been sent to World Bank for approval.

Sarveen Choudhary,  social welfare minister let the house know that pilot project involving new technology to disburse social pensions schemes was being implemented in Una districts. She said that State Bank of India by issuing smart bio-metric cards was disbursing pensions to widows, old age people, handicapped persons and others by appointing agents in the district. Initial hiccups were being encountered, but it would stop all fraudulent payments, she said.

However Mukhesh Agnihotri, congressman, pointed out that the earlier practice of social pensions being delivered at the doorsteps by postmen was more effective and needed to be restored, which was not conceded by the minister.

Chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal said that after the Naina Devi tragedy, last year, precautionary measures had been taken at all temples and despite over 7 lakh pilgrims (more than last year), visiting the hill top shrine this year and over 4.5 lakh visiting Chintpurni temple in Una, no untoward incident was reported.

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