The forest fire in Bandipur Tiger Reserve and National Park in February 2019 has destroyed nearly 40,000 acres killing a forest guard and injuring many others, especially those who tried to put out the fire. It had almost engulfed most of the northern and western portions of the reserve forest which could have also trapped the Waynad Wildlife Sanctuary and the Rajiv Gandhi National Park (Nagarhole), which form an important part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve - an International Biosphere Reserve in the Western Ghats and Nilgiri Hill ranges of South India. This Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve which is a sub-cluster is an ecologically significant part of the Western Ghats which including the Mudumalai, Aralam, Mukurthi, Bandipur, Nagarhole and Silent Valley national parks, as well as the Wayanad and Sathyamangalam wildlife sanctuaries. All this has been responsible for declaring the Western Ghats a World Heri-tage Site by UNESCO in 2012.
The Nilgiris is a range of fascinating ecosystem of the hill ranges and its surrounding environment covering more than 5,000 square kilometers. The Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve was constituted by the UNESCO in September 1986 under its Man and Biosphere Programme and it became the first biosphere reserves with a heritage increasingly rich in its flora and fauna. In addition to this a large number of indigenous people such as the Irullas, Kurumbas, Todas, Kotas, Paniyas, Adiyans, Edanadan Chettis, Allar, Malayan, etc., have inhabiting this reserve for as long as the forests have existed.
However, it must be observed that the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, the Himalayan regions and the dry deciduous forests of India, particularly in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha are highly ecologically sensitive areas and are the most affected by forest-fire. The forest fires are as old the forests themselves and are mostly good for the ecology as well as for regeneration. They often help the forests to get rid of its natural wastes like dry grass, tree needles, and thick and unwanted bushes. But the problem is when this fire becomes untamed and destroys most of the flora and fauna severely destroying the ecosystem and eventually affecting the ecological balance. The forest fires result in depletion of the ozone layer, irreversible soil degeneration, habitat loss and loss of livelihood of many tribal and rural communities. Sometimes the impact of forest fire is worse than what has been said. Forest fires are caused both due to natural as well as man-made causes.
For ex: Natural causes are mostly due to lightening, rubbing of dry sticks, friction due to rolling stones and the like; man-made causes are due to severe cultivation practices, illegal felling of trees, clearing for mega-infrastructure projects and other irresponsible behavioral acts.
The recent Bandipur forest fire 2019), Uttarakhand forest fire (2016) and many such cases are believed to be man-made disasters giving rise to an endless blame game between the government and the local communities. It is a known fact that majority of the forest dwelling tribals mostly depend on the forest for their livelihood. According to recent reports more than 55% of the rural communities depend on the forest directly and indirectly (that is for both timber and non-timber forest produces). In fact before 1865, the forest dwellers were utilising all the forest resources without any restrictions. But, in August 1865, the British introduced several rules and regulations that restricted such use of forest resources. Even the National Forest Policy of Government of India (1952) states that the interests of the communities dwelling in and around the forests should not override national interest. But, this again, was done, in order to protect the forests from misuse and over-exploitation of natural resources. This is a classic example of a really good policy, but very poor execution. According to local communities they have the right to use the forest produce since they have been the original inhabitants. The Government puts forth its argument that the forest needs to be protected and so the communities can't be entertained inside the forests. Thus the communities were finally asked to vacate the forest for being responsible for destruction of forest and wildlife. Off late this has given rise to another problem where the communities intentionally torch the forests as their revenge for having kept them out of their region.
Therefore, it is very important to maintain healthy relationships with the local communities if the forests are to be protected. This is possible if the communities are involved at various levels of maintaining the forests since they know their region very well…. In fact they are the sole observers, the key informers and therefore become the immediate protectors of our forests…...