Forest Fire Conference in city next week, agencies to discuss jurisdiction, speedy response to fires in Pune

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PUNE Forest Department officials said that they are organising a ‘forest fire conference’ of all stakeholder agencies to iron out various issues about jurisdictions and speedy response to fires in the hills and forest areas in and around Pune.

Forest officials said they will also conduct anti-encroachment drives for hills and forest areas in and around the city.

Over the first two weeks of this month, at least two major and four minor incidents of fires on hills have been reported in the city and its neighbouring areas. On February 6, a large patch of forest was gutted on Sus hill. On February 10, a larger fire was reported on a hill next to Katraj tunnel and Shindewadi. Minor fires were reported from the hill and forest areas in Hinjewadi, Baner and Katraj in the same period. Officials are predicting increased occurrence of these fires as drier months set in.

Deputy Conservator of Forest for Pune, Rahul Patil, said, “We will hold a Forest Fire Conference in Pune next week. We are inviting representatives from the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authorities (PMRDA), the fire brigades from these bodies, district administration, citizens’ groups, various NGOs, gram panchayats of the areas under our jurisdiction. One of the key purposes will be ironing out issues related to jurisdiction. A nodal officer from each of these bodies will be appointed and these officers will be the single points of contacts for these agencies while responding to forest and hill fire emergencies.”

Pune has a large number of hills like Tukai hill in Pashan-Baner, Chatushrungi Hill, Vetal Hill, Parvati Hill, Taljai Hill, hills in Hadapsar and also some in the Pimpri-Chinchwad jurisdiction and Katraj. The patches of the forest on the upper plateaus of these hills in most cases are demarcated as reserved forests and are under the control of the state forest department, while the slopes of these hills are either privately owned or are under revenue department or local civic bodies. In some cases, the hill slopes have also witnessed illegal construction activities and encroachment. Citizens groups have often complained that in case of hill fires, agencies point to other entities citing jurisdiction issues.

Patil said, “We will also undertake an anti-encroachment drive on these hills. In some of the cases, we have also undertaken work to construct protective walls or fencing for our areas on the hills. Each of the forest guards have large areas under them and monitoring these areas can be even better if there is support from local citizens and citizens groups. There are a lot of citizens’ collectives who are active on various hills of Pune, doing a lot of conservation work. These groups will be key stakeholders for this conference.”

When asked about the preventive measures against forest fires and firefighting equipment available with them, Patil said, “We have already drawn fire lines in these areas to make sure that if fires start, they are contained in smaller areas. We do have equipment with us and more are needed and a proposal for the same has been sent to the government.”

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