Devastating Bandipur inferno: No action yet on guilty Forest Officers
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Devastating Bandipur inferno: No action yet on guilty Forest Officers

September 8, 2019

Mysuru: Despite a Forest Department-constituted committee recommending disciplinary action against senior and junior forest officials for the devastating forest fire that occurred in Bandipur National Park during February this year, no action has been taken so far. A top Department officer, however, has stated that they were waiting for a Vigilance Committee report to initiate action. 

The Committee has found that rampant corruption and dereliction of duties are the major reasons for the fire to burn precious flora and fauna and the mandatory precautionary measures were not taken to prevent fire before the dry season started. 

The inferno had destroyed more than 3,000 hectares of fully grown forest in the ecologically sensitive Tiger Reserve that is home to tigers, leopards, civets, sambar deer and four-horned antelopes among  other animals.

Following the fire, an Inquiry Committee was set up by the Department under the leadership of Senior Forest Officer Harikumar Jha and the Committee has submitted the report in                                                               April this year. And even after four months, no action has been taken against guilty officials. 

The Committee found out that the annual action of preventing summer fire by preparing fire lines was not implemented properly. It has recommended to the State Government that funds that were misused for fire line work should be recovered from officials. The Committee has held the then Bandipur National Park Director Ambadi Madhav and his subordinate officers directly responsible for the fire and lack of preparations to face the inferno. Madhav has retired from service now and his last service was at Mysuru as Chief Conservator of Forests.

The Inquiry Committee has cited two reasons for the massive fire — poor quality of fire line work and complete misuse of funds. The report states that no fire lines were drawn in four wildlife ranges of the Tiger Reserve. Even the fire lines that were drawn were of sub-standard quality and it was just 3-4 meters wide instead of 10 meters. 

Lantana and Eupatorium cover almost 60% of the forest and both weeds are hardy and highly combustible and this, coupled with wind during February, added to the severity of fire. The Committee observed that lantana is prevalent in other Tiger Reserves as well and no fires have been reported there as they are cleared from places that are prone to fire like safari tracks and other routes that are taken by human beings.

The Committee observed that if officials had been better prepared, they could have doused the fire instead of letting it spread as much as it has. Fire lines should have been ready and fire-watchers hired on time for a season marked by warm and dry winds — conditions that are known to be essential factors in starting and fanning forest fires. Their inaction has led to this large-scale ecological damage, the Committee observed. 

Reacting on the non-action against guilty officers, environmental expert Joseph Hoover told SOM this morning that even after 20,000 acres of forests were destroyed months ago, the Department has not taken action against the guilty officers. “The Department enquiry Committee has indicted the then Conservator of Forests Ambadi Madhav. Immediate action must be taken and funds must be recovered. I demand that retirement and pension benefits must not be granted to him,” Joseph Hoover said. 

Echoing similar sentiments, former Wildlife Warden Naveen Kumar felt that action must be taken against Ambadi Madhav under the Prevention of Corruption Act. “It is a clear case of corruption and dereliction of duty and action must be taken against such Forest Officers who have compromised their position of power to meet their selfish ends instead of saving the environment,” he added.

Speaking to SOM this morning, Head of Forest Force (HOFF) and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) Punati Sridhar admitted that the Committee headed by Harikumar Jha had submitted a report to the Department in April this year. “We sent an interim report to the Government and asked the Forest Department Vigilance Committee. The Committee is yet to submit its report,” he said.

“The Vigilance Committee will probe if there are any misuse of funds by officers and will quantify the extent of misuse. We will have to wait for the report to assess the corruption and initiate action against guilty officers. Once the Vigilance Committee report reaches us, action will be taken,” he added.

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