By Bizodisha Bureau, Bhubaneswar, March 8, 2021: The Odisha government on Monday formed a task force on Forest Fire Management to fight raging bushfires in the state, which reported over 23,325 forest fires in the last 7 days, the highest in the country. On Monday, Odisha reported 668 large fires, which was more than 60 per cent of the total large fire incidents in the country.

Similipal biosphere reserve in Mayurbhanj district and three other wildlife habitats are on fire and the government has warned of strict action against those setting fire to the forests.

A notification of state forest department said a task force headed by former principal chief conservator of forests of Odisha, Dr. Sandeep Tripathy will review the current forest fires, causes and immediate containment. It will also suggest measures for augmentation of existing fire management protocols including Geomatics-based Fire Alert System. The other members of the team include current PCCF Jitendra Kumar, chief wildlife warden Shashi Paul, director general of Forest Survey of India Pankaj Agarwal as well as representative of director general ICFRE Dehradun, member of local NGO and a journalist from Mayurbhanj.

The taskforce will recommend suggestions for improved community participation in fire management and prevention conduct post assessment of forest fire-affected area, loss to wildlife, biodiversity and suggest appropriate measures for augmentation and give suggestions for improvement of SOP for fire prevention and management in the state to prevent such occurrences.

The constitution of the task force came even as On Monday, Odisha reported 668 large fires, which was more than 60 per cent of the total large fire incidents in the country. In Similipal tiger reserve, where fires are still being reported from many parts of the buffer zone, a local outfit ‘Bhanja Sena’ has called for a 12-hour bandh in Mayurbhanj district March 10 to protest the administration’s failure in controlling the fire.

Fires have been reported from Kuldiha sanctuary in Balasore, Satkosia sanctuary in Anugul and Sunabeda sanctuary in Nuapara district. In Kuldiha sanctuary fire erupted from Nandia hills and spread to other parts of the jungle posing serious threat to the wildlife.

Meanwhile, in Baripada, Divisional Forest Officer Santosh Joshi has cancelled leaves of all forest staff under the division even as fresh reports of fire incidents have been reported from several points under Udala, Dujura, Bangiriposi, Rasgovindpur ranges close to Similipal biosphere reserve. A tribal man named Pradhan Hembram was on Monday arrested on charges of setting fire the Badampahar reserve forest under Dudhiani range.

In Sambalpur division, DFO Sanjeet Kumar warned of stringent legal action against those found intentionally setting forest on fire. “People found setting fire to forest areas will be put behind bars without any delay,” he said and announced a provision of cash award of Rs 5000 for anyone who informs about people setting fire in forest areas.

“Mass awareness is being created and we have appealed to the public to cooperate with the forest department. Setting forest on fire is a punishable offence under the Odisha Forest Act and one(s) found guilty of such crime may be punished with a jail term of 3 to 7 years,” said Sanjeet Kumar.

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