[ Ranjit Sinha ]
Raging forest fires are the second most dangerous threat to Arunachal Pradesh, which is considered to be one of the forest-rich states, after perennial flood.
The state has been losing its forest area due to increasing forest fires, apart from development activities like road infrastructure, every passing year.
According to the India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2021, Arunachal, which has a geographical area of 83,743 sq kms, has lost 257.11 sq kms of its forest cover compared to the 2019 assessment. As per the ISFR report of 2021, the total forest cover of the state is 66,430.67 sq kms – 79.33 percent of the geographical area of the state.
During the previous assessment of the ISFR in 2019, the total forest area of the state was 66,687.78 sq kms (79.63 percent).
According to the ISFR-2017 report, the total forest cover of the state was 66,964 sq kms (79.96 percent), while the total forest cover of the state was 67,248 sq kms (81.21 percent), as per the ISFR report of 2015.
The decreasing trend of forest cover area is mainly attributed to manmade forest fires, either intentionally or accidentally.
There were 9,784 forest fire points detected in Arunachal during 2020-2022, compared to 5,050 incidents of forest fire points detected during 2018-2020 by the Forest Survey of India.
Another reason for the decreasing forest cover is illegal tree-felling. Detection of illegal tree-felling and timber depots in the core area of the Namdapha National Park in Changlang district recently is also one of the glaring examples of shrinking forest cover in the state.
There is a forest fire detection system in place. Satellite sensors such as Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite – Soumi National Polar  orbiting Partnership (VIIRS-SNPP) have been used to detect fire spots or fire points.
Apart from the forest fire detection system developed by the central government, there are the Assam Forest Regulation Act, 1891, the Indian Forest Act, 1927, and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 to protect forests.
Various sections of the Assam Forest Regulation Act, 1891 prohibits forest fires in any reserved forest, and penalise the person(s) involved in causing forest fires in reserved forests.
The state government also receives fund under the Forest Fire Prevention & Management Scheme launched by the central government, besides the state government’s CAMPA scheme for maintenance of forests and fire prevention works.
However, all mechanism, Acts, rules, and schemes to prevent forest fires and conserve forests seem to be useless without fund, human resource and awareness among the communities.
The state government must ensure that there is adequate fund for proper execution of the FPM scheme, and also increase allocation of fund under the CAMPA.
The government, particularly the forest department, should also involve panchayat leaders, gaon buras and local leaders to prepare strategies to prevent forest fires before the onset of the forest fire season in the state, and also ensure effective coordination with other agencies like the disaster management authority for proper execution of plan and programme to preserve and protect forest resource.