Quoting "For, until and unless sufficient manpower and physical infrastructure are not provided to the Forest Department, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the Forest Department, to carry out its functions," the Uttarakhand High Court has asked the State Government to take steps for filling up vacancies in its Forest Department, preferably within six months.
A Division Bench comprising of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma stated,
"The State should ensure that sufficient fund is given to the Forest Department so that the vacancies can be filled up. Therefore, the State, especially the Forest Department, should ensure that sixty-five percent of vacancies in the cadre of Forest Guard are eliminated, and all the vacancies are filled-up within a period of six months."
The order further stated, "Moreover, the eighty-two percent vacancies that exist in the cadre of Assistant Conservator of Forest should equally be filled up as expeditiously as possible, preferably within a period of six months. Likewise, the vacancies existing in the cadre of Ranger should be filled up as expeditiously as possible, preferably within a period of six months. Moreover, the Forest Department should have the necessary equipment and the physical infrastructure."
During the hearing, it was informed that the Forest Department has a large number of vacancies. The sanctioned strength of Forest Guards is 3650, out of which there is a vacancy of 2098. Thus, there is a vacancy for 65% of the staff. Similarly, there are 82% vacancies in the cadre of Assistant Conservators of Forest. Likewise, on the post of Rangers, the sanctioned strength is 308, and the working strength is 237.
The Bench was further informed that in the year 2016, the Forest Department had formulated a "Crisis Management Plan". However, the Forest Department is not in a position to implement the plan in total due to a shortage of funds and staff.
Quoting "It is, indeed, trite to state that forest fires have numerous adverse effects: firstly, on the green coverage of the State; secondly, on the wildlife; thirdly, on the human population; fourthly, on the environment itself," the Bench remarked while underlining the need for proper implementation of the said Crisis Management Plan and further added that it is essential for the State to develop multi-pronged strategies to tackle this annual menace. Therefore, in addition to the above, the following directions have been issued:
- The State Government should consider the possibility of equipping the State Disaster Response Force with all the necessary gadgets and equipment, which are necessary for fighting the forest fires. Therefore, the State should also deliberate whether it can equip the State Disaster Response Force with Helicopters and with other aerial equipment, which will permit the State Disaster Response Force to effectively deal with the forest fires. For, it is common knowledge that once forest fires blaze out of control, it is easier to control the same from the air, than from the land.
- The State should also consider the possibility of creating artificial rain by cloud seeding. Of course, this will have to be balanced with the distinct possibility that too much rain may also lead to land-slides, a phenomenon to which the State is prone.
Inter alia, the Bench has called for the implementation of the guidelines issued by the National Green Tribunal, in a case titled Rajiv Dutta v. Union of India & Ors., to prevent forest fires in the State of Uttarakhand. The hearing for the matter has been fixed for May 12, 2021. [READ JUDGMENT]