'Very sorry state of affairs': SC slams Uttarakhand for 'lackadaisical' approach in controlling forest fires, calls chief secretary

A bench headed by Justice B R Gavai directed that the staff and vehicles of the forest departments of states shall not be requisitioned for election purposes or any other purposes like the 'Char Dham Yatra'.
shish Tripathi
Last Updated : 15 May 2024, 13:34 IST
Last Updated : 15 May 2024, 13:34 IST

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday came down heavily on the Uttarakhand and central governments over their "lackadaisical" approach in handling forest fires and directed the state Chief Secretary to be present personally before it on May 17.

A bench of Justices B R Gavai, S V N Bhatti and Sandeep Mehta quizzed both the governments over availability of funds for the forest department, lack of equipment, and the diversion of forest guards to election duties.

The court said though multiple action plans have been prepared, no step has been taken for their implementation, and termed state government's defence as mere "excuses".

The court slammed the Uttarakhand government for its sluggish approach in containing several wildfires and also dealing with damage caused to over 1,100 hectares of forest land in several incidents of fires reported since November.

The state government counsel pointed out the high court had passed several directions regarding forest fires and many of them have been implemented but it had to file an appeal as some conditions were not possible to be implemented.

"The high court had said in the event of fire going on for 24 hours, the DFO will be automatically suspended. If it goes on for 48 hours, the principal conservator of the forest will be suspended," the counsel said.

On this, the bench said, "Probably, it was only to wake them out of slumber. High court must have realised that."

The court also noted the single biggest hurdle was the vacancies.

The state government explained that the funding is a problem and the state has a big forest cover but funding resources are limited. It also claimed that the Centre has not provided sufficient funds.

A counsel, representing a party in the matter, criticised the state authorities for downplaying the forest fires issue and claimed the few firefighters available often had to douse blazes without proper equipment.

The bench was informed that the state was granted Rs three crore against a demand of Rs 10 crore to deal with the fires.

The bench also pulled up the Centre for not providing sufficient funds to the state government. The bench criticised the deployment of forest officials for election-related responsibilities and said it is a "sorry state of affairs".

"Why have adequate funds not been given? Why have you put forest employees on poll duty amid fires?" the bench asked.

Published 15 May 2024, 13:34 IST

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