Chennai: The Forest Survey of India's (FSI) SMS warning about hot spots/fire alert in Kurangani Hills in Tamil Nadu's Theni district was received just before midnight on Sunday, a senior state Forest Department official said on Tuesday. However the FSI said they had sent the intimation on Sunday afternoon.
On Sunday, a group of 36 trekkers were caught up in a massive forest blaze in Kurangani Hills, resulting in the death of 11 persons and several injured seriously.
"The SMS alert from FSI came only at 11.46 p.m. on Sunday. The FSI also sends email alerts. On Sunday, the attachment did not open. But many times the attachments sent by FSI do not open. Hence we depend on SMS alerts as it comes directly to the mobile phones of many state government officials," the Forest Department official, who did not want to be identified, told IANS.
According to the official, the Tamil Nadu government is in the process of signing an MoU with the Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), part of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), for such warnings.
"Once the MoU is signed then we can get the data from NRSC directly. We have the capability to decode the data sent by NRSC," the official added.
Responding to the charge, a senior official of the Dehradun-based FSI told IANS over phone: "We alert the state government officials in two modes - email and SMS."
Requesting anonymity as the official was not authorised to speak to the media, the official added: "We just checked the email sent to the Tamil Nadu official. The email was generated at 3.37 p.m. on March 11 and was sent."
"The email was forwarded to another computer system and the attachment to the mail opened without any hitch," the official added.
According to the FSI official, data is gathered from satellites that pass over India. The first satellite pass was at 1.57 p.m. and the secondat 1.59 p.m.
Meanwhile, ISRO Chairman K. Sivan told IANS that the "Tamil Nadu forest fire was picked up by NRSC in the afternoon. The data was sent to FSI soon after that. We have a MoU with FSI. The FSI in turn sends the alerts through SMS."
Queried about the delay in SMS as voiced by the Tamil Nadu official, the FSI official said that is done by a vendor and it is not possible to get the time of delivery.
According to the official, within 40 minutes of the receipt of data from NRSC, emails would be generated by FSI and within few minutes after that, the SMS would be sent.
"There are around 18,000 registered mobile numbers with FSI for data. Any person can register his mobile number on our website and also specify his area of interest so that the customised data is sent through SMS," the official added.
"The FSI also provides bulk registration facility so that a nodal officer in a government department can register numbers of even beat level officials so that information can be reached to him/her," FSI official added.
According to FSI official, while many states have registered mobile numbers of over 2,000 officials, Tamil Nadu with less than 250 registered numbers ranks low in the overall picture.
"The state can register the mobile numbers of beat level officials so that critical information can be reached to them," the FSI official said.