Shimla, May 3
Most forest fires could be averted if pine needles get cleared from jungles. Pinus Roxburghii Sarg (chir pine) is the most abundant tree species in the Himalayan region. Mid hills of Himachal Pradesh have pine forest (About 1,25 885 ha), which is vulnerable to forest fires. Moreover, even unscientific extraction of Resin from the tree makes such forest more fire-prone, causing massive loss of fresh broadleaf saplings and the regeneration of others.
These days, the State government and forest Officials have been facing public wrath as pine leave forests in the state are in perils. Reportedly, as many as 30 to 40 forests are in a blaze, causing massive damage to local people. A forest fire near Tikkar Jarol in Kotgargh damaged HPMC cold storage facilities. Several villages around ITBP headquarter at Taradevi were affected by the massive fire that could be brought under control after three days. In Shimla city, the Tutikandi pine Forest fire created havoc, forcing 70 inmates of an Orphanage to be rescued to safer places on Sunday.
The primary reason for such fires is the pine needles, which authorities have confirmed many times. Even though the state government/authorities have been encouraging the collection of Pine needles, nothing significant has moved forward in this direction.
Pine needles are having demand in cement plants and factories as it was being bought at Rs 500 per ton for converting into construction bricks. A cement dealer Rajesh Thakur informed us that Ambuja cement has started making a light weight brick out of it. A three times bigger size block can be sold for Rs 16 to Rs 17 compared normal small sized brick which is currently priced around Rs 9 to Rs 10/-.
Besides, Pine needles are also fiber rich. In February this year, the PPCF forests of Himachal Pradesh disclosed that FRI had developed an easy, eco-friendly technique to extract fibres from pine needles. This isolated fibre can be spun into handloom cloth, and products like jackets, coats, purses, wall curtains, lampshades, mats, and ropes can be made. The rope net can be used in the mountains to bind large rocks and prevent them from falling.
The PCCF had claimed that there could be considerable demand for pine needles in the market. PCCF had expressed hope that such technology would transform the forest fire scenario in the state.
Yet such statement remained confined to media pages, and, as to date, what can be heard, seen or read is ‘forest fires’.
While encouraging pine needle collection for other uses, the state government offers Rs 5 to Rs 6 per kilogram, but is it enough, is a moot question.
A local Rajesh Thakur of Badhari village (which witnessed a similar fire) says, “Local people need more encouragement. Moreover, what about the other challenges the government needs to consider? Asks another resident, Ramlal from Dublu.
Experts inform that there are multiple reasons for this business stream not gaining popularity among the masses. The major issue is the collection of bulk chir pine needles, which can only be done in coordination with the local people of several villages. Then comes the requirement of big storage spaces. Besides, there is always the hazard of needles catching fire due to their highly flammable property, so one needs to use them urgently. Then the economics of the cost of production, sustainability, transportation, and accessibility of markets for the products are other challenges in the far-flung rural areas of the hill state.
Despite enormous harmful effects, the logical strategy for sustainable and effective management of the use of needles is still being explored by experts. Hopefully, the State high court, which has taken a suo-moto cognizance in the matter, will have to guide the path further.