Forest dept’s ‘apathy’ left Bandipur vulnerable to fire

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Bangalore: Spotted deer are seen hunting for food, (right) a wild boar carries the carcass of an animal, following extensive forest fire at Bandipur National Park near Gundlupet in Chamarajanagar district, on Saturday. DH PHOTOS
The fire outbreak which left a trail of destruction at the Bandipur tiger reserve could have been averted had the Forest department taken up its routine exercise of making firelines and hiring temporary watchers, said sources.

Sources said that rain in the first week of March made the Forest department oblivious to taking precautions.

“The vegetation this year was green still and there was rainfall in the first week of March, which is unusual. The officials believed that it will keep away the fire. To make the matter worse, the firelines to prevent the spread of fire, which should have been ready by January, is yet to begin,” said the sources.

The department has cancelled the safari on Thursday and Friday, and all the drivers of safari vehicles have been deployed to put off the fire.

Residents of Karemala, Hangala, Chikkyelchetty, Kanivepura and other villages are hired every year on temporary basis, to guard the forest against fire between January and May. Each of the 12 ranges in Bandipur, except Mulehole and Kalkere that are inside the sanctuary, requires 10-20 watchers in this season to avert fire, if any. However, this year the department has not hired them, following the rainfall, the sources said.

Unable to guage

“The range officer at Bandipur is inexperienced in wildlife. As this is his first posting, he was unable to gauge the problem,” the sources added. However, Conservator of Forest Kantharaju said firelines were made. He said a conspiracy is suspected behind the fire and an inquiry would be conducted by Saturday.

Apart from the forest staff, 15 employees of Jungle Lodge and Resorts, 10 volunteers from a private resort and wildlife enthusiasts from Gundlupet were roped in to check the spread of fire.

The fire that was brought under control by Friday afternoon, is said to have engulfed over 5,000 acres, including huge trees around Keremala.

Inquiry into incident

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) and Chief Wildlife Warden Vinay Luthra said that an inquiry would be conducted into the forest fire.

“I have already requested the Additional Secretary, Department of Forest Ecology and Wildlife to order a probe into the matter,”he said. He too is suspecting the conspiracy in the forest fire said,

“There was fire simultaneously in four places. This leads to several suspicions,” he said. When questioned about the unpreparedness of the forest department, he said he was not aware of it and said that he will look into the matter.

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