Uttarakhand is facing one of its biggest tragedies thanks to hundreds of forest fires. And the worst part is that it may be due to the greed for timber from the forests. 

As the state reels under a heat wave and water shortage, the fires in the state are so bad that it has reduced visibility in some areas and has resulted in people suffering from respiratory diseases. Vast stretches of forest land have been destroyed in hundreds of forest fires, which have so far claimed six lives. Thirteen districts are on high alert.

In some areas, like Nachani, villagers are guarding forests to prevent “anti-social elements” from setting the forests on fire, reports The Tribune

In the same report, the Divisional Forest Officer of Almora, SR Prajapati said: 

“We have now decided to arrest the person, who is caught setting forest in fires, under Forest Act.”

And now there’s a Facebook post, that has been shared over 4,000 times, shows just how deep rooted the problem is. In a post, Ela Smetacek has alleged that many of the forest fires may be started by the timber and land mafia.

In her post she quoted Rahul Sharma, a bird expert, saying,””Villagers are paid to set fire to forests and once it goes out the unburned parts are strangely reset till it is all burnt”

“We caught three young minors setting fires to a birding area in Sattal, and we asked them why . They said their father had told them to set fire to the forest. We put out the fire with water from the lake, and the next day it was again set ablaze. Today we saw the dead trees are being marked and cut for sale,” Sharma said. 

The post further adds: 

The trees that die in the fire and as a result of the fires are cut for timber and sold for 100s of crores and this ghastly project it clearly a mega windfall for the timber dealers and mafia. Forest Panchayats are often in league with these dealers and fires are often lit, every summer. But this year, the entire Uttarakhand is ablaze!!! 

And she also points out why it’s a problem not just for the state. 

“The hills are the only natural Oxygen lung for cities like Delhi NCR, and their destruction will dry up the rivers and have an terrible effect on the fate of India. When trees die, ground water evaporates. A barren, burnt land is what is left of many mountains where last week, there stood a beautiful forest. 

Smetacek pointed out what needs to be done urgently: 

1.Stop the fires, immediately deploy army to fight the fires and contain them from spreading.

2. Start a fast court and arrest all people engaged in setting fires.

3. Ban burning of private land adjoining forests

4.stop the selling of any forest timber, by forest department and local Van Panchayats

5. Set up wild life rehabilitation teams to address the injured wildlife.

Here’s the full post: 

(With inputs from PTI)

(All the images were sourced from the Facebook Post)