The forest fires beyond Uttarakhand: A dataviz of over one lakh forest fires by time and location

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The forest fires ravaging Uttarakhand this year have been widely reported. Less reported are the 20,000 or so forest fires that enflame many other parts of India every year between February and June, partly because of rising temperatures and agricultural practice of shifting cultivation, before the rains arrive.

The data interactive below maps the number of forest fires by date and location, as reported by the Forest Survey of India, between 2012 and 2016. In all, that’s 102,527 forest fires till May 1, 2016.

In the last five years, 2012 saw the maximum incidents of forest fires, though 2016 is running close. Typically, forest fires peak in March: in the last five years, the month accounted for between 46% and 66% of forest fire incidents, and was particularly bad in 2012. The number of incidents tends to fall in April, but 2016 has been an exception on that front.

Although Uttarakhand has seen a spike in forest fires in both high-count years, 2012 and 2016, there are 12 states that have registered more forest fires than it in the last five years. Large parts of the northeast (where the practice of shifting cultivation is common) and Odisha are affected every year, as are parts of Central India. In the last five years, the states to have registered the maximum number of forest incidents are Odisha (10,636), Mizoram (10,335), Assam (9,602), Chhattisgarh (9,210) and Maharashtra (7,534).

As many as seven of the top 15 districts by forest fire incidents are in the northeast. The top five are Karbi Anglong in Assam (4,166), Dantewada in Chhattisgarh (3,631), Aizawl in Mizoram (3,535), Gadchiroli in Maharashtra (3,485), and Dima Hasao in Assam (3,464).

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News in Numbers, May 2, 2016: Gujarat’s 10% quota for poor, Uttarakhand’s forest fire crisis…


What is it? Reservation quota in education and jobs for those with less than Rs 6 lakh of annual family income in general category, as announced by Gujarat government on Friday.

Why is it important? This is a move to appease the protesting Patel community, which has been demanding ‘Other Backward Class’ status to avail reservations in education and jobs. This comes ahead of the state elections next year, and after Congress won 23 of 31 district panchayats in the civic polls last year. The BJP has been in power for the last 18 years in the state.

Tell me more: The Patels are unhappy with the state government’s offer and have demanded that its community get a separate quota, similar to what the Haryana government has offered the Jats. The reservation move will exceed the 50% reservation limit set by the Supreme Court but the BJP says it is ready to go legal to defend its move.

7.5 tonnes

What is it? The quantity of gold Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), which manages the famous temple on the hill in southern Andhra Pradesh, is considering moving under the Indian government’s gold monetisation schemes.

Why is it important? This would be biggest mobilisation under the schemes launched last November. Over 1.5 tonnes have been deposited so far, and the board may move its entire reserves of 7.5 tonnes. The schemes are aimed at lowering India’s gold imports, which form the second highest component in the imports bill after crude oil. India imported 926 tonnes of gold in 2015-16, 16% less than the previous fiscal.

Tell me more: TTD wants the government to pay the interest component on medium and long-term schemes to be paid in gold instead of cash and also, calculate the interest on gold at the time of return instead of at the time of the deposit. This, on top of some changes the government had announced on Friday.


What is it? The number of people from state agencies involved in putting out the forest fire in Uttarakhand.

Why is it important? This is one of the biggest disaster the state has faced with 1,233 cases of fire covering 1,900 hectares of forest. While the effective area under fire has come down by 70%, the government hopes to put out the fire in the next 3-4 days by putting  10,000 more people on the job.

Tell me more: The area under fire is many times more compared to previous two years- 930.3 hectares in 2015 and 384.5 hectares in 2014. On Sunday, the government announced a pre-fire alert system that will issue warnings to the concerned departments via text messages. As on April 21, 20,667 forest fire incidents have already been reported, compared to 15,937 in 2015 and 19,054 in 2014.

1.25 crore

What is it? The number of people who paid taxes in 2012-13.

Why is it important? This was just 1% of India’s population at that time, indicating the extent of domestic tax evasion. Direct taxes accounted for 51% of the total tax revenue in 2015-16, the lowest since 2007-08. Indirect taxes (levied on goods and services) puts a greater burden on the poor.

Tell me more: Only 2.9 crore individuals filed their income tax returns in 2012-13 and nearly 89% of them paid taxes less than Rs 1.5 lakh with the average tax outgo being less than Rs 21,000.

13.2 lakh

What is it? The number of individual household toilets built in urban areas in 2015-16.

Why is it important? This is just around 53% of its 25 lakh target for the year and indicates that India would be hard-pressed to achieve open defecation-free status by 2019.

Tell me more: 11 states reported they have not constructed even a single household toilet. Gujarat accounted for around a third of the total individual household toilets last fiscal. States were also unable to meet their targets in the community and public toilet category where they have reported construction of only 68,500 toilets as against the target of 1 lakh.

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