We, the Citizens
By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
There is a strong Timber Lobby in the valley. We do not know how it influences our netas, because Cabinet decisions are collective, but the trend is obvious.
It started with an attempt to re-define a Forest. If that had succeeded then our limestone hills would have been as bare and as white as a traditional cricket ball. That plan was aborted. Undaunted, the Lobby rode the bandwagon of Airport Expansion. That, too, was frustrated. Its latest ploy is to claim that trees have to be felled in the core area of Corbett to meet the urgent needs of National Security. This is curious because both the National Security Adviser and the Chief of Defence Staff are Garhwalis. Don’t they know more about our Defence needs than a local mantri?
Why, then, is our sarkar ignoring both science and itihas when dealing with our forest cover? Is this nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to a socio-political crisis? Multiple whammies have hit governments across the globe. Even the Biggest Big Brother has been challenged in his eastern Red Citadel. Lesser clones, world-wide, feel the ripples of the gathering storm. Myanmar and Thailand are fairly close to home, beleaguered Yemen is further away and so is Russia which, too, has been buffeted by the winds of change. Finally, even The Firm, stolidly ensconced in Buckingham Palace, has been shaken by a beautiful, talented, self-confident and self-employed ‘outsider’.
The status quo can be comforting to all of the people, some of the time, but not to all of the people all of the time!
Change is necessary to evolve, and evolution is needed to survive. The dinosaurs grew too big to survive: a tiny, warm-blooded carnivore could consume the tip of a dinosaur’s tail before the monster lizard’s head registered the attack! Monster parties need monster funds to maintain themselves. States are the tributaries which feed the mainstream and since forests are presumed to be a passive, exploitable resource, they are the first to be attacked.
But do our forests play no role in our continued well-being? Have we, so soon, forgotten the green lessons of the Chipko Movement?
On Saturday night we had a storm: a long-expected March Wind. It blew down the dead leaves of our Banj trees so that the new leaves could grow. The dead leaves, then, carpeted the forest floor at the base of the trees. They would dry and crumble during the summer, giving back sustenance to their parents so that the new leaves could spread into a strong, green, canopy. When the monsoon comes, the canopy would form an umbrella, breaking the force of the rain-storm, allowing the water to percolate gently through the loam of fallen leaves, and recharge our underground aquifers. These aquifers would gush out of the springs on which we depend for our water.
That is the science of the green water cycle. But if our netas don’t believe in science, don’t they respect our itihas? All ancient religions have itihas: a brilliant embroidery of history, tradition and belief woven together in easily understood parables.
Our Indic itihas has created the easily-remembered belief of the Ganga being called down to wash away the sins of many people. But her flood was so great that she would have inundated the whole world. Realising this, Lord Shiva, Lord of the Himalayas, unfastened his tangled locks, captured the torrential Ganga in them, and released only a trickle to serve mankind.
To us, this itihas conveys the sacred message that the forests of the Himalayas, particularly those of our Dev Bhoomi ranges, are the source of three of our life-giving rivers: the Ganga, Jumna and Saraswati.
If we sacrifice our forests to pander to the greed of the timber lobby then we are peddling the wealth of the people of Uttarakhand. We are mortgaging their future. Or, to put it in terms of our Christian itihas, we are selling our inheritance for a mess of pottage. Already the output from Mussoorie’s springs has fallen and is diminishing. This summer Mussoorie is likely to face the Water Wars that Shimla faced last year.
Which of our self-publicised netas will stand up, then, and take the blame?
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)