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NGT directs changes in central monitoring committee to tackle forest fire incidents

NGT directs changes in central monitoring committee to tackle forest fire incidents

New Delhi, May 29 (PTI) The National Green Tribunal has directed that the Central Monitoring Committee be expanded to develop a robust institutional mechanism for implementation of action plan to control increasing incidents of forest fire, including a national database for burnt area assessment on yearly basis. The Central Monitoring Committee on forest fire will now be headed by the Secretary of Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) with seven members, a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said. The committee may comprise representatives of the MoEF, CPCB, Wildlife Institute of India, National Disaster Management Authority, Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, Forest Survey of India and the National Remote Sensing Centre, Hyderabad and the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of states/UTs."MoEF Secretary will be free to co-opt any other member or experts, apart from special invitees, if any. The Central Monitoring Committee may meet preferably once in three months and address all the issues arising out of the forest fires, including the effective implementation of the National Action Plan on Forest Fire (NAPFF)," the bench said.The tribunal also noted that a national level database is to be developed for burnt area assessment on yearly basis and standardized protocols and procedures are needed to facilitate the reporting of the area affected and losses due to forest fire which is to be developed by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) in association with Forest Survey of India and other institutions."The work has been assigned to the ICFRE to standardise protocols for estimating area affected and losses due to forest fire and reporting the same at successive levels. ICFRE is also to assist in designing and organizing adequate training programs for forest officials at various level. ICFRE may expedite the process and conclude the assigned task within three months."The Central Monitoring Committee may hold its first meeting as early as possible, preferably within three weeks in view of ongoing season for such forest fires. MoEF Secretary may issue directions for constitution of appropriate institutional mechanism at state levels also," the tribunal said.During the hearing, the MoEF submitted a report and told the NGT that 74 forest fire hotspots have been identified based on Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectro-radiometer (MODIS) data."Satellite-based forest fire alerts are sent through sms/e-mails for effective measures. The NAPFF has been uploaded on the website. Advisories have been issued to the States/UTs for prevention and control of forest fires on January 3. Primary responsibility to prevent, control and manage forest fires is of the state forest departments."The central government may provide assistance under the Central Sponsored Forest Fire Prevention and Management Scheme. Funds are released against the Annual Plan Operations approved by the State Forest Department. Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act 2016 and Rules, 2018 provide for utilization of Net Present Value for protection of forests from fire and State Forest Departments are utilizing the fund for the said purpose," the MoEF said in its report.Taking note of rising incidents of forest fire, the tribunal had directed the MoEF to submit data related to such occurrences in the last five years and identification of hotspots.The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by senior advocate Rajiv Dutta drawing its attention to the massive forest fires in hilly areas.The NGT had last year directed that there must be a nodal officer at the central level to continuously monitor and coordinate with states and disposed of the plea.The tribunal had earlier rapped the Centre for remaining a "mute spectator" to the recurring forest fires in the hilly states, and directed the environment ministry to formulate a national policy.The petitioner had claimed that large areas of forests, along with diverse biological species, have already become extinct as a consequence of these preventable forests. PTI PKS RT