No answers still to raging forest fires at Sattari

| MARCH 11, 2023, 12:49 AM IST

The forest fires continued to rage, and for the first time, there were fears that the historic Tambdi Surla temple and the Bondla zoo could be at risk. Fire has been a hotly debated subject for almost a week and has thrown more surprises every day. On Friday afternoon, 11 active spots of fire were reported even as fire-fighting operations continued in full steam, with helicopters undertaking multiple sorties to douse the flames.

While much of the focus has been on fighting the flames, the reoccurrence of fires and the new spots that have emerged show an alarming trend, much against the background of the involvement of human hands. With the theory of weather inducing the fire fading out, the consistency with which the fires are emerging meant that some very “active” force is driving it.

Ironically, the threats and warnings held out by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and Forest Minister Vishwajit Rane have not yielded any results. Also, the investigations, policing and vigilance appear to have failed because the “invisible” human hand is still at work. And it doesn’t care for any threats or warnings of prosecution.

It is increasingly becoming clear that the system is failing because there is still no justification against statements of arson and sabotage. Almost a week later, there is no clarity on how the fires are emerging, the story behind the human involvement and the motive of arson. We keep hearing loose allegations from the government and environmentalists, but then it’s all smoke.

In situations such as these, statements must be backed by hard facts. If people are responsible for these fires, then the State has a major problem at hand, and the government must ensure that strong deterrents are set. The entire machinery will have to go into overdrive despite its weaknesses in the terrain and launch a manhunt and perhaps camp on site.

While fighting fire is essential and must continue, there must be a parallel system of robust vigilance to ensure no further damage is caused. Unfortunately, the fire has been playing truant, catching enforcement off guard, and we keep hearing that investigations are on. This cannot go on forever, like the probe into the killing of four tigers in the Sattari forest.

All said, the forest fires had exposed the chinks in not only disaster management of the State but also in forest management. The State’s failure to enforce law and order in these forest areas is as clear as daylight.

Since there is no headway into the probe, and perpetrators have still not been identified, the government perhaps will have to rework strategies and engage more locals who could be of tremendous help in navigating through the intricacies of the issue. The people’s pulse in the area must be felt if authorities are to come to grips with the matter. It’s time to stop speculating and merely pointing fingers; the need is to get cracking.

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