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Inviting the Demon

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By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

We began to suspect the presence of a Jungle Mafiosa when we read that our State Cabinet was considering making it easier for trees to be felled in private estates. There were two particularly naive clauses in the proposed amendment to the forest protection laws. The first asked that the penalty for the illegal felling of trees be changed from imprisonment to a fine of Rs 1 lakh. How convenient: the sale of a single old deodar tree will fetch about that amount, the rest of the feller’s illegal income will be profit. As for shifting the trial authority from the Civil Judge to the Divisional Forest Officer, the implications of this are serious. DFOs are forestry experts, not legal specialists. The amicus curiae appointed by the National Green Tribunal reported that several trees of different species, including oak and deodar, were found cut in Nainital. Moreover, concrete had been used to choke the root system of trees and thus force them to dry. The quotation then continued by saying, “the persons wanting to raise constructions on private land could then get permission from the Forest Department to cut such trees”. The DFO is obviously too over-burdened to perform his normal forest protection duties, is there any justification in loading him with additional judicial functions? Or, is there a more sinister motive?

And here is an interesting view on deforestation. A mantri has been quoted as saying, “We are trying to make the Forest Department people friendly and, in return, people will become forest-friendly, thereby ensuring conservation.” What an unusual idea! By this logic the shooting of wild animals in our sanctuaries will make people dedicated protectors of wildlife!

We will leave this for a latter day fantasist like George Orwell to handle, and move on to a recent success story. It was reported by Shivani Azad of the Times Group. On 5th June, World Environment Day, two Tehri villages were honoured by the “Green and Clean Award” by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The awards were received by Pradhans Preeti Jardhari and Seema Dabral of Jardhar and Chopdiayal villages. Forty years ago, the forests of these two villages had become wasteland because of forest fires and the timber mafia. Determined to recover their green heritage, and relying on traditional wisdom, the villagers planted ‘water retaining’ trees like Baanj and Buransh. Today, their once dried reservoirs are full and their forests are lush and green.

But there is more to their achievement than personal gains. They have pushed back the arrival of a monster that threatens the world more than Covid ever did. For many decades, human civilisation has been doing what the exploiters of the two Terai villages did forty years ago. These global activities spread far beyond the boundaries of the urban sprawls of the globe. It extended to the Oceans and the skies above earth. Our factories and transportation systems guzzled wood, coal and oil: the products of ancient forests found beneath the earth. As the smoke and fumes reach into the sky they produce a mirror-like effect. This had not happened millions of years earlier because the thick forests of the globe had prevented it. Every tree draws up water from the earth, and pumps it up to its highest branches by using a system of osmosis.

This works because trees have a vascular system like our veins and arteries. But the cubes carrying their liquid are porous. One system carries water, the other a liquid filled with nutrition drawn from the soil. Whenever they touch, they exhume liquid, and also feed the branches and leaves. In every leaf a miracle happens. Using the green substance called chlorophyll and the power of sunlight, leaves convert the poisonous carbon dioxide which animals breathe out into oxygen which we breath in and use the carbon to create the wood in its trunk and branches, and from tiny holes at the bottom of every leaf, it releases the excess water that it has used for the osmosis process.

Every tree is a solar electric air purifier, water pump and self renewing organism. When a tree is cut a complex life renewing system is destroyed. The demon of climate change walks the earth.

(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour 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 was a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)