Inconsiderate approach: Uttarakhand Chief Secy is summoned by the Supreme Court about forest fires

The Supreme Court (SC), outraged by a “very sorry state of affairs” in Uttarakhand’s handling of forest fires, ordered the state Chief Secretary to personally come before it on May 17 and provide an explanation for the underuse of money and the delay in

completing open positions.

“We are keen to point out that Uttarakhand’s approach to fire management is, to put it mildly, nonsensical. A bench chaired by Justice BR Gavai said that while action plans have been created and approved, no efforts are being made to put them into practice.

“The sunny image you painted of the final date was inaccurate… The bench, which also comprised Justices SVN Bhatti and Sandeep Mehta, concluded that the state needed to make some firm judgments.

It instructed the Center to clarify its position on the prompt distribution of funds under centrally supported programs and the National Disaster Management Fund.

The highest court ordered the Chief Secretary to provide an explanation for the deployment of Forest Department employees on election duty in contravention of the Election Commission’s exemption. In any case, it said, “We order that forest employees and forest vehicles in every state not be commandeered for electioneering or for any other reason, such as the Char Dham Yatra.”

The bench questioned him on why the Forest Department wasn’t hiring more people sooner. It said that the Chief Secretary needed to clarify how long it would take to replace the positions in the forest department. “On the one hand, the state contends that resources like manpower and vehicles are not available, and on the other hand, it keeps a large number of vacancies,” the statement added.

It also looked at the causes behind the excessive number of openings in the Forest Department and the underutilization of funds managed by the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA).

The state’s attorney informed the court on May 8 during the hearing of a petition on forest fires in Uttarakhand that 398 forest fire events had resulted in 5 deaths, 388 criminal cases, and 60 identified accused parties. It had said that these kinds of accidents only accounted for 0.1% of the state’s animal cover that was on fire. On Wednesday, the Bench said that there was no justification for using just Rs 3.41 crore of the Rs 9.12 crore authorized for activities connected to forests in 2023–2024 when CAMPA funds were available and approved by the federal government.

It was inquiring as to whether funding from CAMPA were being used for other, non-forest objectives.

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