Thiruvananthapuram: In the bedtime stories told by mothers in the deeps of Kerala he is called by different names. In Muthanga, he is Irulan. In Aralam, he is Theekkaalan. In Kottur, he is Kullanthuppan. But the folkloric being that goes by these names is the same everywhere: a dwarf, with an unquenchable thirst, and a tongue of fire that can reach up to the skies. He appears in the forest deeps during drought years, and promptly dries up the water in the streams and ponds.
Still burning with thirst, forest lore has it that he would desperately shoot his fiery tongue upwards to suck water from the clouds. But as he does this, he unwittingly burns the forests. “Mandan Kullan”, kids call him. The “dwarf’s folly” seems to be ravaging the forests of the state like never before. If, last year, Forest Survey of India had identified 10 sq km of forest land as highly prone to forest fires, this year it has mapped 500 sq km as high-risk, an unprecedented assessment.
“Never before had we such a situation where both the monsoons had failed. There is virtually no moisture content within the forest, and fire incidents are exceptionally high,” said Mr Deepak Mishra, the chief conservator of forests (Kollam). “We have recruited more daily wagers to fight fires in our circle,” he said. The fire season has only begun, it starts from February and extends up to June 15. In Wayanad, a large continent of nearly 170 forest personell, including top officials, had camped inside the forests for 10 consecutive days. “It was only yesterday that we came out,” said P Dhanesh Kumar, the chief wildlife warden of Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary.
“Our major attempt was to prevent the sparks from across the border to stoke fire inside our areas,” Mr Dhanesh said. Five ranges of Nagarhole Wildlife Sanctuary, while lies northeast to Wayanad sanctuary, have already been burnt down. Bandipur and Mudumalai, on the eastern and southern borders of Wayanad sanctuary, are burning. There were heavy fires in Chembra mountain within Wayanad. Along with Kollam, Palakkad has recorded the most number of fires this season. The Forest Department has revived an old community participation experiment to tackle forest fires. Vana Samrakshana Samithis, with 15-20 members, have been given Rs 1000 each to protect one hectare of forest. Each VSS will have 150-200 hectares within their ambit.