SC slams Uttarakhand government over handling of forest fires, summons Chief Secretary

The top court observed that the approach of the Uttarakhand government in controlling the fires as lackadaisical.
Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of IndiaPTI Photo

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed its displeasure over the steps taken by the Uttarakhand government in controlling forest fires, calling the state’s approach "lackadaisical.”.

A three-judge bench, led by Justice BR Gavai, directed the Uttarakhand Chief Secretary to be present personally before it on May 17, the next date of hearing in the case, to give an explanation, including on the utilisation of funds and vacancies in the forest department.

“We are at pains to say that the approach of the state of Uttarakhand in controlling the fires is, to say the least, lackadaisical. Though action plans have been prepared and finalised, no steps are being taken for implementation of the same,” said the bench, also comprising Justices SVN Bhatti and Sandeep Mehta.

In its last hearing, the Uttarakhand government informed the Supreme Court about the steps taken by it to control forest fires in the hill state.

“0.1% of wildlife cover was battling forest fires and some sections of the media reporting that 40% of Uttarakhand was burning was totally misleading. There were 398 forest fires from November 2023 until today. All of them are man-made,” the Uttarakhand government’s deputy advocate general, Jatinder Kumar Sethi, told the apex court.

Sethi pointed out that the phenomenon of forest fires was not new to Uttarakhand and every summer the forest department deals with such fires. The top court was hearing the matter related to forest fires in Uttarakhand on an application filed by senior advocate Rajiv Dutta.

Sethi handed over a 380-page interim status report on behalf of the state government to the court, which apprised it of the immediate current status of the handling of the forest fires by the state machinery. He also submitted that a Uttarakhand Forest Fire Mitigation Project 2023–28 was pending with the Central government and an Uttarakhand Forest Fire Management Plan 2024 was being acted upon.

The bench noted that one of the grievances raised by the state was regarding the failure of timely disbursement of the national or state disaster management fund.

“We fail to understand how the state could have a grievance with the disbursal of the state disaster management fund, as it is within the domain of the state to disburse the said funds,” it said.

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