Revellers blithely violated the new forest fire rule, of which most are blissfully unaware
New Year Bonfires While several campers and picnickers burnt campfires recently to usher in the New Year, no one had sought permission to do so, from the department of forests and park services.
The new forest fire rule, which came into effect from November last year, states that campfires and bonfires would be allowed, only after obtaining a permit from the department or the tourism council of Bhutan.
But that did not happen for, apart from the people, even some officials of the territorial division, Thimphu, aren’t aware of the campfire rule. A forest official said the new forest fire rules has been posted on the ministry’s website.
Until now, only few sought permission from the territorial division to cook outside during picnics but never for campfires. In 2011, there were two permits issued to cook for picnics, and five in 2012.
Head of forest fire management program, Tandin Dorji, said, although this provision existed in the forest and nature conservation rules, it was “never really” implemented. The revised forest fire rules have reiterated the provision, and it would be strictly followed, he said.
Territorial division’s assistant forest officer, Sonam Tshering, said there are more people who aren’t aware about the rules than those who are. “If we come across people camping or picnicking without permits, we give them awareness about having to obtain permits,” he said. “But fines are imposed, only if the fire escapes.”
Although there was only one case, where fire escaped from an unattended campfire and burnt about six acres of land between 2007 and 2012, the rule was put in place to make people more cautious and aware.
A fine of Nu 1,000 an occasion would be imposed, if a campfire or bonfire is arranged without a valid permit, the revised rules state. But if the fire arranged with a valid permit escapes, a fine of Nu 10,000 would be imposed with other penalties; and if a fire escapes from a bonfire that’s arranged without a valid permit, the fine increases to Nu 50,000.
Tandin Dorji said people are not seeking for permission, because they are still unaware of the new rule. “Lack of sensitisation is another reason,” he said.
Dzongkhag forest officer, Ugyen Tshering, said people only sought permits to burn debris. A recent graduate Sonam, who’d organised a bonfire with his friends in Serbithang on New Year’s Eve, said he had not sought permission from anyone, since they didn’t know they had to seek one. “There were two to three groups in the same area with bonfires, but no one checked on us,” he said.
By Sonam Choden