The hillsides and valleys were full of thick forests, earlier, which have been literally denuded today. The result is constant landslides creating problems for road transport. This affects the water absorption too and rain water just flows away and goes a waste. The awareness of locals resulted in the Bahuguna led ‘Chipko’ movement in Uttar Kashi. A movement for which they deserve kudos. A similar movement ‘Aapiko’ was launched in Kanara, Karnataka but these isolated efforts have made o perceptible difference. Our government and bureaucracy continue to slumber whilst corrupt contractors and even state agencies continue to denude forests. Our law enforcement is lax when it comes to earning illegal money by destroying the protectors of our environment.
We hear of policies and drives of tree plantation but all these are just for the day and a good ploy to get media attention. Instead of this single inning drama, this should be a continual process as demonstrated by the literate and conscientious people of Kerala. They had decided to plant trees in the memory of their dead. What greater honor to the departed soul than a strong upright tree providing fruits, fresh air and shade. Their efforts initiated in the Nineties have continued to improve the ecology.
The result of indiscriminate felling of trees has been a total change in the laws of nature too, with rise in temperature, lower ground water level and lesser, irregular seasonal rainfaill. Examples of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarachal, Himachal Pradesh specially the Doon Valley and Shimla come to the mind. Soils are being washed away and the mountain ecology devastated. Similar is the state of Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra, Mahendgragiri in the sourth and the Bengal-Bihar-Orissa belt. The latter areas have several reasons at its core, including mining, both state and illegal, and for tourism. Thousands have been displaced due to forest land going under water due to construction of huge hydro-electric projects. This together with huge dams constructed for water control has laid waste thousands of square kilometers of valuable forests.
Hillsides are laid waste of tress in the name of tea plantation and forest lands claimed by the burgeoning population, all this while government agencies look on as impassive spectators. The felling of trees by the organized mafia is another headache. They have laid private roads for easy access to logging and removal of precious timber and the forest department officials who are paid handsomely, to preserve the ecology are not even aware of this illegal felling nor the kilometers of road laid. This was brought to the notice by the print media and television coverage.
The huge dams, that have already submerged thousands of acres, have necessitated shifting of mass population, residents of the peripheral areas. This necessity has further resulted in thousands of acres of forest land, further, cleared of trees for their resettlement. These are only for their residence. One can imagine the future consequences because these are persons who owe their livelihood to cattle and farming. They will naturally, illegally graze their cattle in the surrounding forest area and further denude forests to create clearings for their safety from the wild animals of the forest. The reduction in size of the surrounding forest area will create an imbalance in the wildlife population who due to this will be forced to attack human settlements for food. The North Eastern Areas of the country which have seen settlements and tree plantation, after clearing forests are already bearing the brunt. Due to this shrinking of their inhabited area, the wild animals find food scarce and attack human settlements.
Our army has further aggravated the woes of forest denudation. They have created their cantonments by clearing forests and felling trees. Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland have seen a definite rise in terrorist activities from across the border with the result that permanent army installations needed to be established with the consequence being faced by forestry.
Catastrophic landslides have been the bane of Uttaranchal and Garhwal. The trees were the main grippers of loose soil on the hillsides and the felling of this ‘benevolence of nature’ indiscriminately due to commercial value and road construction, have left the soil loose together with the rocks. Heavy showers act in further loosening this up with the result that soil and rock mass tumbled blocking roads and even rivers. Some of the worst landslides in the areas are the Dhauliganga landslide in 1956, Rishi Ganga in 1967, Patal Ganga in 1970, the river Bhagirathi blockades of 1978 and 1992 and the Madhyameshwar landslide of 1998.
The rock masses tumbled into the rivers creating huge blockades resulting invariably in a lake behind the dammed river. Either the impounded water overflowed the dam or the loose barrier gave a way. The net result was flash floods, and heavy destruction of life and property, downstream. The Bhagirathi blockade of 1978 saw a 30 meter dam formed which later breached and caused major flash floods. The 1992 blockade saw the Uttar Kashi-Gangotri road severely damaged and closed to traffic for nearly a month. This is quite a regular phenomenon and needs to be studied for permanent solutions so that sustainable development of the mountain terrain and hill slopes result.
A useful exercise would be to train local villagers into the benefits of ecology and planting trees. Of course, just plantation will not do and regular grooming needed. The tribals of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa have the forestry as their lifeline and their cooperation in keeping a vigil on indiscriminate destruction of trees could be helpful. They should be provided incentives to maintain the forest cover. Unfortunately, they are being forced to seek refuge elsewhere in areas of Palamau and Gumla districts of Bihar. These tribals numbering about 50000 are being forced to resettle elsewhere to make way for a firing range, for the army.
The ultimate bottomline is that we need trees for healthier lives and to remain alive. They are of primary importance- heredity to be guarded and treated of National Importance.