One of the country’s largest biospheres and famous for its high density of tiger population, the Bandhavgarh National Park is suffering from raging forest fires. Located in the Umaria district of Madhya Pradesh, the national park is spread over 105 square kilometres. It is one of the most popular national parks in the country.
The First fire was reported on 29th March, Monday. The fires are still burning in some ranges of the park. The fire initially broke out in isolated places of the park but spread to multiple sectors over multiple days. The fire has spread to six ranges in the national park, including Panapatha, Kitholi, Tala, Manpur and Magadi. The Magadi gate of the park was shut. The situation was exacerbated by bamboo clumps and heatwave in the region.
Fire tenders from Pali, Chandiya and Umariya were rushed in to control the wildfire. So far, no fire-related casualties have been reported. Most of the fires were brought under control by Wednesday, according to Park Director Vincent Rahim. District Collector of Umariya Sanjeev Shrivastava also visited the park along with Rahim. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan also took stock of the fires and instructed authorities to take necessary action.
There have been multiple visuals of large swathes of the national park under raging fire, and it is feared that danger is posed to the lives of animals in the region.
Social media users were also quick about sharing forest fires and urging authorities to take speedy action against the forest fires.
Inadequate resources have been pointed out as one reason it takes so long for the fires to be put out. Locals had also said that authorities did not take timely action when the first fires were reported.
Environmentalist Ajay Dubey has said that the national park officials and the MP forest department were focusing solely on tourism and overlooking the park’s conservation. He said that the authorities had not made ample arrangements to deal with forest fires. He was also worried about tiger cubs and other endangered species threatened by the fire.
However, authorities have said there had been no damage done to wildlife in the region. Park director Rahim said that there was no loss of animals during the initial survey. Collector Sanjeev Shrivastava told reporters, “Since the fire began from one area, the animals escaped from the other end. It is only in situations when the fire is from all sides that the animals are trapped,”.
The forest fires cause has not yet been ascertained, but authorities and environmentalists both agree that natural reasons did not cause these. There are multiple theories about how humans might have started these fires. Park Director Rahim has said that an inquiry has been constituted to find the reasons for the fires. Officials are also stunned about how fires started at multiple locations.
There have been previous instances where villagers have started fires due to frustration from animals damaging their crops. Villagers also burn Sal leaves lying on the ground to collect Mahua and other non-timber forest produce. Environmentalists have used this opportunity to stress the need to relocate and rehabilitate villagers from the area to avoid such incidents and preserve a critical ecologically diverse forest.
These forest fires in Bandhavgarh are not the first instance of this year. In January, forest fires were reported in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, Shimla, and other parts of the state of Madhya Pradesh. In the same month, fires were also reported in Dzukou Valley along the Nagaland-Manipur border. Earlier in March this year, fires were also reported in the Simlipal National Park in Odisha.