At the end of 2012, much was talked about saving and preserving the environment, but nature continues to take a beating across the state.
According to an annual report published by the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department, forest fires in the state have increased by more than 100 per cent in 2012 when compared to 2011. Officials said a combination of dryness or non-prevalence of unseasonal cyclonic rainfall and deliberate fires caused by humans for collection of non-timber forest products (NTFP) have led to the increase in numbers from 1113 in 2011 to 2357 in 2012.
“Locals deliberately burn up areas, mainly in the Telangana region, to collect beedi leaves and other forest products. Tribals in certain locations burn the area on the ground to collect Mahua flowers to produce beverage or boil it with sal seeds as a seasonal grain substitute,” said PK Sharma, additional principal conservator of forests at the state forest department.
He added that non-occurrence of pre-monsoon showers too lead to the fires as the forests remain dry. Leaves on the ground catch fire due to friction and heavy winds carry the flames, burning up all dry leaves and other materials on the ground, he said.
Although most are only ground fires, they seriously affect the young plants and trees and heavily damage flora and fauna, Sharma said.
The report, which was published few days after the new year, stated that, to some extent, forest areas were encroached and burnt for cultivation purposes.
“Intentional burning is illegal and we penalise whenever we find persons doing so. However, many times, the person is not caught as it is very easy to slip away,” remarked Sharma.
He said if a person was caught, a case was filed and fine amount collected, but the amount, which ranges between `500 and few thousands, is anything but a strong deterrent.
Of the 12 circles under the forest department, highest number of fires took place in Warangal at 352, which shot up from 86 in 2011. Khammam came second with 319 fire incidences in 2012, a steep rise from 115 cases in the previous year.
However, the highest rise in terms of number of incidents was in Vishakhapatnam, where, from a mere 43 cases in 2011, the number spiralled upwards to 191.
“The Boda grass is the main cause of fires in the Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR) and Rayalaseema regions, while the production of Tendu leaves the major cause of forest fires in Telangana regions,” Sharma said.
But he added that only 24 per cent of all compartments of the department were prone to fires, while the remaining 76 per cent were totally unaffected.