Forest dept wants chopper stations in Mysuru to douse jungle fire

Forest dept wants chopper stations in Mysuru to douse jungle fire

The Forest Department has submitted a proposal to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to set up helicopter stations at the Mysuru airbase to douse infernos in the wild for at least two months during the forest fire season. 

 The proposal, submitted in November 2014 at a meeting of the Disaster Management for Fire and Floods in Delhi, has been accepted by the NTCA. The issue is likely to be discussed with the Indian Air Force (IAF) chief soon. 

R Gokul, director, Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, who presented the proposal to the NTCA along with the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Vinay Luthra, said Mysuru was a critical point because most tiger reserves and sanctuaries were situated in and around that city. 

“Helicopters can either be provided by the Indian Air Force, private companies or corporates as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility initiative,” he told Deccan Herald. 

Costly affairRenting a helicopter for half an hour from a private firm would cost about Rs 50,000, according to the Forest department estimates. Since it would take about two hours to douse air fire, it would cost around Rs two lakh.

Based on data obtained from the Forest Survey of India, there have been 173 incidents of forest fire in Karnataka from January 1 to March 1. This proposal may cost the government around Rs 3.46 crore for two months alone. 

However, the idea has not gone down well with conservationists who argue that the department should rather invest in hiring permanent staff and focus on preventive measures. They also point out that the fire control fund of Rs one crore each, given to Bandipur and Nagarhole, has not been appropriately used. 

“The focus should be on prevention of forest fires. Choppers with bambi buckets may be required only to combat uncontrolled fire.

Experienced forest officers have successfully prevented and controlled fire by employing less fancy techniques such as hiring sufficient fire watchers, timely burning of fire lines under tight supervision, gathering intelligence on suspicious elements and providing quality leadership.

With these measures in place, the need for such expensive and asymmetrical technology solutions would not arise,” said Praveen Bhargav, Trustee, Wildlife First. 

There have been major fires in Bhadra, Nagarhole and Bandipur between 2004 and 2014. 

The FSI report 2011 has documented 1,402 such incidents in Karnataka during 2008- 2011. 

Hardly any offender has been convicted for causing fire and destruction to wildlife habitat under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Only timely investigation and prosecution will act as a deterrent. 

Meanwhile, noted tiger scientist K Ullas Karanth asserted that use of helicopters is not practical, because such applications often involve chemical sprays. Traditional fire protection in a timely manner will work reasonably well, he added.