Supreme Court Criticizes Inadequate Funding and Misallocation of Forest Officials During Uttarakhand Fires

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court of India has expressed significant concern over the Union government’s response to the devastating forest fires in Uttarakhand. During a recent hearing, the court questioned the central government’s decision to allocate only ₹3.15 crore to the state for fire control measures, despite a request for ₹10 crore. The discrepancy in funding has raised questions about the government’s commitment to addressing the environmental crisis.

Furthermore, the court scrutinized the Centre’s allocation of forest officials to election duties amidst the ongoing forest fires. This move was seen as a mismanagement of resources, especially during a time when the state was grappling with widespread fires that required immediate attention.

The apex court remarked on the gravity of the situation by stating, “You showed us a rosy picture when things were worse,” indicating that the government’s portrayal of the crisis did not align with the on-ground reality.

The hearing, which was adjourned for a few hours, is set to resume at 3 pm today. Previously, on May 8, the Supreme Court had emphasized that relying on cloud seeding or divine intervention was not a viable solution to the forest fires. Instead, it urged the authorities to implement preventive measures proactively.

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The Uttarakhand government informed the court about the actions taken to mitigate the fires, noting that only 0.1 percent of the state’s wildlife cover was affected. However, since November of the previous year, there have been 398 reported forest fires, resulting in the tragic loss of five lives.

Deputy Advocate General Jatinder Kumar Sethi highlighted that all the fires were man-made, leading to 388 criminal cases and implicating 60 individuals. The counsel addressed the court, dispelling rumors that “40 percent of Uttarakhand is on fire,” and reaffirmed that the actual affected area was significantly smaller.

The Supreme Court’s involvement stems from a 2019 petition that underscored the severity of forest fires in hilly regions, particularly during the summer months. The presence of highly flammable pine trees exacerbates the risk of such fires.

Advocate Rituparn Uniyal filed a plea urging immediate action to safeguard the state’s forests, wildlife, and avian population from the escalating wildfires. The plea calls for the Centre, the Uttarakhand government, and the principal chief conservator of forests to establish pre-fire strategies and formulate policies to prevent future incidents, thereby protecting the environment from further harm.