Forest fires: Accountable who?

Greater Kashmir

It is extremely critical for the government to break its silence and explain the root causes of these fires

There has been a spate of forest fires in the last couple of months across Kashmir division that have wiped out precious forest cover in the already depleting forests of the state. The worst hit are the ranges in the vicinity of Srinagar – the Zabarwan range, forest areas in and around Dachigam National Park – and the Pirpanjal range. Outer Himalayas in South Kashmir have been affected too. This is quite a worrisome situation. In view of the disturbed political and security situation prevailing in Kashmir right now, details about these fires – the causes, the extent of the damages and the preventive measures taken by the Forest Ministry are quite sketchy. There is a genuine concern among the people that the Forest Ministry didn’t rise to the occasion as one would expect it to and no efforts were made to address the questions in the public domain about the mitigation measures the ministry was taking in controlling the fire. It was the duty of the Forest Minister to address the people, and also the media, and explain the situation. However, nothing of that sort has happened so far. It is extremely critical for the government to break its silence and explain the root causes of these fires. If the fires have been ignited through negligent human actions – something that is not difficult for the Forest Department personnel to determine in view of their strong presence in the forests – then it needs to be explained how accountabilities have been fixed. If these fires have happened because of deliberate human actions – something which is not difficult for the Forest Ministry to determine – then again accountabilities have to be fixed. The government needs to recognize that this culture of blanket impunity, especially for those who have the primary responsibility of securing the state’s natural assets, would not help in substantiating its claims of striving for an accountable system of governance. Forest fires are a very serious issue and demand attention of highest consideration at the governmental level.