Nagpur, Nov 23 (PTI) The forest department in Maharashtra's Nagpur district conducted a three-month-long programme earlier this year that was aimed at curbing the forest fire incidents in Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR) through public participation, an official said.

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Thirty-seven villages, out of the total 39 villages located in the buffer zone of the PTR, took part in the competition named "Fire-free Pench Programme-2022" organised between April and June this year. Summer season sees increased instances of forest fires.

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PTR deputy director Prabhu Nath Shukla said Kolitmara village secured the first position and won a cash prize of Rs 51,000 in the competition, while Surera and Ghat Pendhri villages received the second (Rs 31,000) and third (Rs 21,000) prizes respectively.

"The programme got an overwhelming response as 37 of the total 39 villages present in the PTR took part. As part of the programme, voluntary patrolling squads were constituted for public awareness. They patrolled the sensitive forest areas and helped the forest department in case of any fire incidence," he said.

A total of 299 youths were part of such squads and they conducted patrolling in the PTR 80 times during three months, he said.

"The programme helped in overall 67 per cent reduction in the total forest area burnt, which was 659 hectares in 2021, and came down to 218 hectares in 2022. There was 52 per cent reduction the in number of fire incidents, which was 63 during 2021, which came down to 30 this year 2022," Shukla said.

Performance of the villages was assessed on the number of meetings held at village level for execution and coordination, size of the voluntary squads, number of patrolling carried out by squads, number of forest fire incidents, efforts in arresting spread of fire from farms, among others, he said.

A committee comprising was constituted to assess the overall performance of the villages in the competition.

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