UPSC MAINS 2019: India can’t afford to have Bandipur-type forest fires

India can’t afford to have Bandipur-type forest fires


Topic: India can’t afford to have Bandipur-type forest fires

Topic in Syllabus: General Studies Paper 3: Ecology and Environment


India can’t afford to have Bandipur-type forest fires


In India, forest fires peak during the dry months of March or April before the arrival of the monsoon. To minimize the risk of such fires, the forest departments must improve their management protocols by addressing certain challenges, says a 2018 World Bank Report.


More about on news:

  • Recently A major fire broke out in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka, which is home to not just tigers but also elephants, spotted deer, bisons and antelopes. The fire was so severe that it took five days for the Indian Air Force and the forest officials, to douse the flames.
  • The National Remote Sensing Centre estimated that about 4,419.54 hectares or 10,920 acres of the forest were affected.
  • The lack of an adequate number of forest personnel, a wide variation in how forest fires are treated in disaster planning, and how institutional mechanisms are set up for organising the response to large fires.
  • The report also suggested that the removal of dead hardwood trees, which create the potential for intense fires, could help reduce the number of incidents.
  • It is also important to maintain basic fire lines (a gap in vegetation or other combustible material in the forest), which can slow down or stop the progress of a wildfire.



  • According to the Large Forest Fire Monitoring System launched by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) on January 16, 2019, the number of large forest fires has shot up to 14,107 from 4,225 between November 2018 and February 2019.
  • India, which saw a 46 per cent increase in the number of forest fires in the last 16 years (2003-17), witnessed a 125 per cent spike (from 15,937 to 35,888) in such fires in just two years (2015 to 2017).
  • In 2017, the maximum number of forest fires were reported in Madhya Pradesh (4,781) followed by Odisha (4,416) and Chhattisgarh (4,373).
  • In fact, 23 out of 33 states and union territories reported an increase in forest fires. In Punjab, such incidents of fire increased sevenfold followed by Haryana and Rajasthan which saw four and three times a jump in numbers.
  • As much as 64.29 per cent of the Recorded Forest Area (RFA) is prone to fires, said the India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2015 published by the Forest Survey of India. Out of these, the fire prone areas that fall under heavy fire incidence class are 2.4 per cent, moderate class are 7.49 per cent and mild are 54.4 per cent.


Forest fires:

The most common hazard in forests is forests fire. Forests fires are as old as the forests themselves. They pose a threat not only to the forest wealth but also to the entire regime to fauna and flora seriously disturbing the bio-diversity and the ecology and environment of a region. During summer, when there is no rain for months, the forests become littered with dry senescent leaves and twinges, which could burst into flames ignited by the slightest spark. The Himalayan forests, particularly, Garhwal Himalayas have been burning regularly during the last few summers, with colossal loss of vegetation cover of that region.


Causes of Forest Fire:

Forest fires are caused by Natural causes as well as Manmade causes

  • Natural causes – Many forest fires start from natural causes such as lightning which set trees on fire. However, rain extinguishes such fires without causing much damage. High atmospheric temperatures and dryness (low humidity) offer favorable circumstance for a fire to start.
  • Manmade causes – Fire is caused when a source of fire like naked flame, cigarette or bidi, electric spark or any source of ignition comes into contact with inflammable material.


Classification of Forest Fire:

Forest fire can broadly be classified into three categories;

  • Natural or controlled forest fire.
  • Forest fires caused by heat generated in the litter and other biomes in summer through carelessness of people (human neglect) and
  • Forest fires purposely caused by local inhabitants.


Types of Forest Fire:

The types of forest fire are as follows

  • Surface Fire – A forest fire may burn primarily as a surface fire, spreading along the ground as the surface litter (senescent leaves and twigs and dry grasses etc) on the forest floor and is engulfed by the spreading flames.
  • Underground Fire – The fires of low intensity, consuming the organic matter beneath and the surface litter of forest floor are sub-grouped as underground fire. In most of the dense forests a thick mantle of organic matter is find on top of the mineral soil.
  • Ground Fire – These fires are fires in the sub surface organic fuels, such as duff layers under forest stands, Arctic tundra or taiga, and organic soils of swamps or bogs. There is no clear distinction between underground and ground fires.
  • Crown Fire – A crown fire is one in which the crown of trees and shrubs burn, often sustained by a surface fire. A crown fire is particularly very dangerous in a coniferous forest because resinous material given off burning logs burn furiously
  • Firestorms – Among the forest fires, the fire spreading most rapidly is the firestorm, which is an intense fire over a large area. As the fire burns, heat rises and air rushes in, causing the fire to grow. More air makes the fire spin violently like a storm.


Impact of Forest Fire:

  • Fire severely affects the survival and establishment of many shrub species.
  • Soil heating due to fire changes its chemical, physical and microbial properties.
  • The increase in ammonium and nitrate concentrations in many ecosystems has also been reported as a result of fire incidences.
  • The most damaging impact of forest fire on ecosystem is very evident in the Himalayas, where hill existing between the heights of 1000 to 1800 meters are dominated by pine forests and seems to be more fire prone.
  • Degradation of water catchments areas resulting into loss of water.
  • Loss of wildlife habitat and depletion of wildlife.
  • Loss of natural vegetation and reduction of forest cover.
  • Global warming.
  • Micro-climate change.
  • Soil erosion.
  • Deteriorating Biological Environment.
  • Adverse impact on Health System.
  • Socio-economic impact due to loss of valuable timber resources and associated cultural wealth.
  • Carbon sequestration potential gets adversely affected.
  • Threat to Life and Property.
  • Reducing Tourism Values.


Government initiatives:

The Government of India took number of the progressive steps for protection, preservation and management of forests, including:

  • The Indian Forest Service was revived in 1966 to ensure coordinated professional management of Forests. The purpose of establishing this cadre of officers has been safety and protection of environment and taking care of national interest.
  • The subject ‘Forest’ was transferred from the State List to the Concurrent List of the Constitution of India in 1976 to ensure uniform policy and management throughout the nation. 
  • The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, has prepared a National Master Plan for Forest Fire Control. This plan proposes to introduce a well-coordinated and integrated fire-management programme that includes the following components:
    • Prevention of human-caused fires through education and environmental modification. It will include silvicultural activities, engineering works, people participation, and education and enforcement. It is proposed that more emphasis be given to people participation through Joint Forest Fire Management for fire prevention.
    • Prompt detection of fires through a well-coordinated network of observation points, efficient ground patrolling, and communication networks.
    • Fast initial attack measures.
    • Vigorous follow up action.
    • Introducing a forest fuel modification system at strategic points.
    • Firefighting resources.
    • Each of the above components plays an important role in the success of the entire system of fire management. Special emphasis is to be given to research, training, and development
    • Integrated forest protection: The main objective of this scheme to control forest fires and strengthen the forest protection. The works like fire-line clearing, assistance to Joint Forest Management committees, creating water bodies, purchase of vehicles and communication equipments, purchase of firefighting tools, etc., are being undertaken under this.


Preparedness and Mitigation Measures:

Forest fires are usually seasonal. They usually start in the dry season and can be prevented by adequate precautions. Successive Five Year Plans have provided funds for forests fighting. During the British period, fire was prevented in the summer through removal of forest litter all along the forest boundary. This was called “Forest Fire Line” This line used to prevent fire breaking into the forest from one compartment to another. The collected litter was burnt in isolation. Generally, the fire spreads only if there is continuous supply of fuel (Dry vegetation) along its path. The best way to control a forest fire is therefore, to prevent it from spreading, which can be done by creating firebreaks in the shape of small clearings of ditches in the forests.


The followings are the important precautions against fire:

  • To keep the source of fire or source of ignition separated from combustible and inflammable material.
  • To keep the source of fire under watch and control.
  • Not allow combustible or inflammable material to pile up unnecessarily and to stock the same as per procedure recommended for safe storage of such combustible or inflammable material.
  • To adopt safe practices in areas near forests viz. factories, coalmines, oil stores, chemical plants and even in household kitchens.
  • To incorporate fire reducing and firefighting techniques and equipment


What needs to be done?

  • Awareness regarding the long term ill effects of forest fires have to be made to the villagers residing near the forests.
  • Measures to prevent forest fires have to be taken prior to summer season when fires are prevalent.
  • Local people have to be sensitised use online portals or mobile applications to monitor the forested regions for fires and inform forest officials quickly.
  • Alternatives for greener pastures, producing minor forest produce have to be made available to the villagers by the government.
  • Employment and sustainable livelihood opportunities have to be accessible to the village people, through better connectivity and infrastructure.
  • Officers at ground level have to work together with the villagers for bringing about a holistic solution.


Sample Question:

“The recent Karnataka forest fires are not natural. They are man-made with ulterior motives” justify the statement. Should Government rethink of India’s British-era forest fire policies? Discuss.

India can’t afford to have Bandipur-type forest fires - Info graphics - Feb27th