Facing the dual task of combating severe drought and a raging fire, the Department of Forests, India has sought the help of the Department of Space for identifying potential water resources inside the State of Kerala’s green tracts. Satellite images indicating presence of water deep in the forests will be used for drawing up action plans to augment availability of water to animals and tribals living inside the forests. With the help of geographic information received through remote sensing, new plans to preserve and extend existing sources will be introduced.
The thumbnail of the project has been prepared with the help of space scientists. This will be included in the drought relief proposal that Kerala will soon be submitting to the Centre, sources said. The remote sensing data will also be used for beginning a tele-education project with a view to educating periphery population about their neighbourhood resources. The department has accorded a high priority to the project as reports of preliminary investigation into the forest fire have revealed that most of them were caused by people living near or inside the forests.
“Educating the neighbourhood population ranks high among short-term initiatives. We’ve credible proof to believe that the fire didn’t break out due to a natural reason but were set by people for various reasons,” a top official said.
Strangely, the reasons include retrenchment of tribal watchers who had been employed as fire watchers under a World Bank scheme that ended early this year. “We couldn’t retain them after the WB scheme ended. Perhaps, they are giving vent to their anger,” a senior officer said.
With the fire cutting a swathe through the greenery, the department has deputed its chief conservators to all districts to hold meetings with local groups. “A review meeting will be held in Thiruvananthapuram on March 17 to evolve a future plan of action,” said Surendranathan Asari, principal chief conservator of forests.
The department has also decided to speed up the tele-education on forests. “Except for one incident of fire in Thekkady, sparked off by a stray spark from a power line, we’ve reasons to believe that no natural reason was behind the rest of the incidents. It may be the after-effects of participatory schemes that the department had to discontinue,” Asari said. Sources said the department has failed to ensure timely payment to fire watchers. Similarly, participatory forest management schemes, including compensatory afforestation drive, have been stopped after funding dried up. “But the fire has so far not harmed any big animals. Observations have confirmed that they have moved to safety,” Asari said.