MUMBAI: Shiv Sena leader and minister for environment in the Maharashtra cabinet Ramdas Kadam on Tuesday demanded a thorough inquiry into the forest fire which broke out Monday night, putting the city's green lungs at grave risk.
"We suspect that the fire was a manmade disaster and anti-social elements need to be checked to prevent such incidents. I shall discuss the issue in detail with forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar and urge him to order a detailed inquiry into the incident, which poses an existential threat to the city's lungs," Kadam said.
The blaze, which was reported to the fire brigade around 6.30 pm on Monday, was eventually doused around 12.30 pm on Tuesday, fire brigade officials said. Over a 100 firemen participated in the operation. The fire spread to an area spanning 3.5 km and was escalated to level III.
"Fortunately, the fire was outside the National park limits. However, 40 of our men were involved in the firefighting operations," said Anwar Ahmed, Chief Conservator of Forest of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP).
"We have taken several measures to prevent fires from spreading to the SGNP limits and are actively engage in sensitization of the population on the forest boundary to avoid accidental fires every year," Ahmed said, adding that efforts would be stepped up in the days to come to protect this 16 sq km green space.
According to Prof Haripriya Gundimeda, who is studying the ecological parameters of these green lungs of the city, "In the core area of SGNP the presence of most lethal of the pollutants like PM 10 and PM 2.5 was found to have decreased to almost one third compared to the areas on the boundary of the forest."
This shows the worth of this forest and its need for the city.
However, activists have said that the fires are many times lit by the miscreants. According to the political parties like the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (MNS) the fires are a systematic attempt to encroach upon the prestigious land in the area. That is the reason why local workers of both the parties staged demonstrations at Goregaon on Tuesday. These parties have also been opposing the Metro car shade that is to come up in the Aarey colony.
The fires around this time of the year are a regular occurrence but it was, for the first time, that a fire grew so large and almost risked everything, said environment activist Shardul Bajikar.
The pictures and videos of the fire went viral over social media and were being compared with the forest fires elsewhere. However, the MMRCL had recently reiterated its claim in the Bombay high court that the Aarey Milk Colony, that has over 2,702 trees was not a forest.