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Dry spell triggers forest fires in Himachal

Bilaspur, Una, Hamirpur, Kangra, Sirmaur, Solan, Mandi and Shimla are the worst affected districts in the state.



Forest Fire Himachal Uttarakhand

A prolonged dry spell and abnormally high temperatures these days have set off alarm bells for the forest department in Himachal Pradesh over forest fires causing huge damage to flora and fauna every year.

Though no major forest fires have been reported so far, smoke from fires has started blanketing the skyline of the state capital these days, as also in the hills around Kasauli, Chail, Dharampur, Bilaspur, Kangra, Hamirpur, Dharamsala and Palampur towns.

“We have identified 23 fire-sensitive forest divisions across the state where a team of at least four Home Guard personnel have been deployed to monitor and control forest fires till June 30, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Ajay Sharma told IANS.

He said Home Guard jawans, who are trained by the state Disaster Management Authority and provided with fire-resistance kits, including special uniforms, are part of a dedicated Quick Response Team Task Force, which is formed to extinguish forest fires, in addition to forest staff.

Each team has been provided a vehicle fitted with water tanks and facility to lift pipes which will respond in case of emergency.

Forest department records showed 22 per cent, or 8,267 sq km of the total forest area, particularly in the mid and low hills, is fire-prone.

A majority of the fires were reported from pine forests since, during summer, the trees shed pine needles that are highly inflammable for their rich content of turpentine oil.

The pine forests are found up to an altitude of 5,500 feet.

There are 196 forest ranges in the state, of which 80 are most sensitive and fire- prone.

Sharma said a Rapid Forest Fire Force has been registered with the Forest Survey of India through which more than 11,000 volunteers, NGOs and members of Panchayati Raj institutions at the village level will receive satellite-based short message service (SMS) alert of forest fires in their area.

He said the number of SMS registrations on this count are the highest in country and likely to exceed 20,000 soon.

Bilaspur, Una, Hamirpur, Kangra, Sirmaur, Solan, Mandi and Shimla are the worst affected districts in the state.

Bilaspur Deputy Commissioner Vivek Bhatia told IANS that the administration this year has shown tremendous sensitivity to forest fires.

“We have formed panchayat-level patrolling bodies and we will fine persons as well as the panchayats,” he said.

Bhatia has put out a video message appealing to villagers not to set fire to their fields as this has often led to forest fires. These have caused the death of local wildlife and birds.

The video shows widespread forest fires in and around human habitations. The soundtrack has shrieks of the black francolin, a bird of the pheasant family, over the visuals of forest fires raging.

Forest officials say most fire incidents are started by human action. For instance, the local villagers tend to set grasslands afire to get softer grass after the rains. In most cases, the fire from grasslands spreads to nearby forests.

Official figures show 2018 was the worst year with 2,469 fire incidents reported — the highest in eight years — that gobbled up 25,300 hectares of forest across the state.

In 2012-13, the second worst year, pine forest fires consumed 20,773 hectares with a total of 1,798 cases.

Experts say there is technology to handle the pine needles by converting them into combustible bricks.

The state budget for this fiscal has a provision to establish 25 pine needle based units. They will not only help preventing pine forest fires, but will also provide employment opportunities to local people.

According to the India Meteorological Department here, the maximum temperature in some parts of Himachal Pradesh is three to six degrees above average these days.

Shimla recorded the season’s hottest day on Friday with maximum temperature at 30.2 degrees Celsius, five notches above the average.

Himachal Pradesh is the storehouse of biodiversity. Out of total 45,000 species of plants found in the country 3,295 species (7.32 per cent) are present in the state.

More than 95 per cent of flora species are natural to the state and characteristic of Western Himalayan flora, while about five per cent (150 species) are exotic introduced over the last 150 years.

(Vishal Gulati can be reached at [email protected])



President Kovind donates ₹5 lakh for Ram Temple construction

His Excellency Ram Nath Kovind along with his family donated in their individual capacity to the donation drive and conveyed their warm greetings for the nationwide fund campaign,” VHP President Alok Kumar said after receiving the donation from the President.




Ram Nath Kovind

New Delhi, President Ram Nath Kovind has given the first donation for the construction of the grand Ram temple at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. He donated ₹5,00,100 to a joint delegation of office bearers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Ram Mandir Trust at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Friday.

With this donation by President Kovind, the fund collection drive for the Ram temple started across the country. The campaign will run till February 27.
“We went to President Ram Nath Kovind for the launch of the Ram Mandir Fund Donation Drive. He donated Rs 5,00,100 under the Shri Ram Mandir Fund Donation Drive which kicked-off across the country from Friday. His Excellency Ram Nath Kovind along with his family donated in their individual capacity to the donation drive and conveyed their warm greetings for the nationwide fund campaign,” VHP President Alok Kumar said after receiving the donation from the President.

Vinod Bansal, the VHP national spokesperson, told that a massive public outreach campaign would be launched to cover 13 crore families across 5.25 lakh villages in the country for the construction of the grand Ram temple at Ayodhya. As many as 65 crore people from 13 crore families would be directly linked with the Ram Mandir fund donation drive.

The delegation to meet President Kovind comprised the treasurer of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, Govind Dev Giri Maharaj, VHP President Alok Kumar, Ram Mandir Construction Committee Chairman Nripendra Mishra and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Delhi state Head Kulbhushan Ahuja.

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Supreme Court to take up pleas connected to farm laws on Jan 18

The Supreme Court is likely to hear on Monday the pleas challenging the three farm laws and also the pleas seeking the removal of farmers camping at various Delhi borders.




Supreme Court

New Delhi: A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Vincent Saran will take up the petitions on January 18. On January 12, the top court stayed the implementation of the three farm laws until further orders.

The hearing assumes significance after Bhartiya Kisan Union President Bhupinder Singh Mann, a key member of the court-appointed expert panel, recused himself.

In a statement, Mann said he would give up any position to prevent farmers’ interests from being compromised.

He said that in view of the prevailing sentiments and apprehensions amongst the farm unions and the public in general, he is ready to sacrifice any position offered or given so as to not compromise the interests of Punjab and farmers of the country.

“I am recusing myself from the committee and I will always stand with my farmers and Punjab,” Mann added.

Apart from Mann, Shetkari Sanghatana (Maharashtra) president Anil Ghanwat, International Food Policy Research Institute’s Pramod Kumar Joshi and agriculture economist Ashok Gulati have been appointed by the apex court on the expert panel.

Staying the implementation of the farm laws, the top court had expressed hope that this step may help resolve the deadlock.

However, amid the ninth round of talks on Friday, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) spokesperson Rakesh Tikait, who is part of the negotiations between farmer unions and the Centre, said the unions have made it clear that the committee formed by the Supreme Court is “not acceptable” to us.

Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have been agitating at various Delhi borders since November end.

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Accept mistake and repeal farm laws: Justice Katju to PM Modi

Markandey Katju also suggested that a statutory farmers’ commission be set up to deal with their problems




The former Supreme Court judge, Justice Markandey Katju, on Thursday asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to immediately repeal the three new farm laws through an ordinance and urged him to accept his “mistake” of hurrying the three laws through.

“All human beings make mistakes. By doing this, far from losing face, you will be applauded. If you do it your popularity, far from going down, will soar,” Justice Katju wrote in a letter to Modi. He also suggested that a statutory farmers’ commission be set up to deal with farmers’ problems.

Without such concessions, he contended, the protesting farmers’ plan to enter Delhi on Republic Day with their tractors and the likely police action could lead to another Jallianwala Bagh or massacres similar to Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg (January 1905) or 13 Vendémiaire in Paris (October 1795).

“Bloody Sunday” refers to firing by the Tsar’s forces on unarmed demonstrators in St Petersburg on January 22, 1905. Estimates of the death toll range from around 100 to 4,000.

On 13 Vendémiaire (first month in the French Republican Calendar) of Year 4 — or October 5, 1795 — revolutionary troops under Napoleon Bonaparte, then a general, quelled a rebellion by royalists. Some 1,400 royalists are estimated to have been killed.

Justice Katju, who was a Supreme Court judge till 2011, warned that angering the farmers, now united across castes and religions, could cost Modi politically and using violence against them could trigger turmoil in the states and affect the armed forces, whose personnel come mostly from farming families.

He wrote: “The farmers in huge numbers are presently camped at the border of Delhi but are determined to enter Delhi on 26th January and join the Republic Day parade with their tractors. This will obviously not be allowed by the Government, and consequently, violence in the form of police and paramilitary lathi charges and firing seems inevitable, and a Jalianwala Bagh type massacre (or like the massacre on Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg in Russia in January 1905, or as on Vendemiarie in Paris in October 1795) may ensue.”

Saying that he was sure Modi would like to avoid that, Justice Katju added: “The Government should issue an Ordinance immediately repealing the 3 laws. If you do this, you will be hailed by all for doing it. If anyone asks why the laws were made at all, you can say that we made a mistake, and we realise our mistake and are correcting it. All human beings make mistakes. By doing this, far from losing face, you will be applauded. If you do it your popularity, far from going down, will soar.

“Simultaneously, the Government should appoint a High Powered Farmers Commission having as its members representatives of the leading farmers’ organisations, government representatives, and agricultural experts, tasked with the duty of considering all aspects of the problems of our farmers, the principal one being that they are not getting adequate remuneration for their produce (because of which 3 to 4 lac farmers have already committed suicide).

“This Farmers Commission should hold several meetings, perhaps stretching over several months, and then the consensus which emerges, to which everyone agrees, should be enacted as a comprehensive law.”

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