A preliminary enquiry by the Kerala Forest Department has found that widespread forest fires in Kerala’s ecologically sensitive Wayanad region were likely to be man-made rather than natural.
Fires were detected across the district on Sunday at the almost the same time. The area has been the hotbed of anti-environmentalist protests over the last three months.
A total of 1,200 acres of forest is reported to have been lost in the fires on Sunday. The Sunday fires were the biggest in the district in a decade.
Fanning the flames of suspicion about sabotage, a documentary film maker who was recording the fires was beaten up, his equipment destroyed and his memory card seized by an unidentified gang.
The Roman Catholic Church has been spearheading a movement in Kerala’s Wayanad and Idukki district against a move to protect the forests by implementing the recommendations of the Kasturirangan Committee appointed by the central government.
One of the first demonstrations against the move to protect the local forests by implementing the recommendations of the Kasturirangan Committee had turned violent, with local plantation owners setting fire to Forest Department offices, resulting in the loss of valuable records about encroachment and ownership.
The Kerala government will continue to probe the latest incident involving the starting of forest fires in dozens of places at the same time.