Mumbai: Fire incidents at the Aarey forest have become a regular issue that has been bothering environmental activists and local residents of the area. Between February 5 till March 11, total of 13 fire incidents have been reported from various spots in the Aarey belt.
Local residents claimed that after lockdown was imposed, the incidents of fire became more frequent. “The fire incidents have become a regular issue now, every day there would be a fire for a couple of hours and it would get doused after that,” said Rizwan Merchant a local resident.
Residents also maintained that the fire incidents happen randomly and that there is not any specific areas from where flames could be seen. “As soon as there is fire, we immediately inform the fire brigade, due to the uneven topography it becomes difficult for the fire brigade to reach the spot,” said Sanjiv Valsan, environmentalist and local resident.
Environmentalists also alleged that setting the grasslands on fire are attempts of encroachers and tribals to establish their own settlements.
“The fires are deliberate attempts to destroy the habitat of the forest, by setting the grasslands on fire, tribals are trying to drive away the animals and birds so they can set up their own settlements,” Stalin Dayanand, environmentalist and director of NGO Vanashakti, told FPJ.
"In the past one year encroachers have set up agricultural fields by destroying grasslands over there, now that the government has announced the area to be acknowledged as a reserved forest, they will be demanding alternate housing and compensation in return,” Stalin added.
Stalin also mentioned that he has been consistently writing to the BMC, state minister of the environment Aaditya Thackeray and the CMO, highlighting the issue, however, no action has been taken yet, he said.
A senior BMC official who is also in charge of the fire department said that the entire Aarey forest area comes under the jurisdiction of multiple agencies.
“Our fire officials immediately respond to the call and take action, most of the fires are not very big and it doesn't take much time for us to douse them,” said the official.
The authorities should take a step and find out who is doing it and why it is being done, because this has become a regular affair now," said environmentalist - Zoru Bhathena.