We, the Government
By HUGH & COLLEEN GANTZER
It was reassuring to hear our Chief Minister express his views on forest conservation in Uttarakhand. On 1.11, speaking on the Green Dehradun Rally, he said that “a huge tree planting campaign would be held on 16 July, 2020, on the occasion of Harela Festival throughout the state. There was a need for public awareness on environmental protection ..” (GP 2.11.2019) The next day, when inaugurating the Rajpur Nature Festival, The Garhwal Post of 3.11.2019 reported the CM saying that “a safe and good future can only be imagined by saving nature and the environment …” On both occasions, our very active MLA, Ganesh Joshi, was photographed standing at the side of the CM when he made these heart- warming statements. We are personally aware, and have ensured public acknowledgement, of the civic causes helped by Mr Joshi who, we understand, is also a Defence Services veteran. Having said all that, it pained us to learn that our Legislative Assembly had passed such regressive Rules for the interpretation of the Forest Conservation Act. According to a report published in a national daily, the Rules, cleared by the State Cabinet, stipulate, among other things, that land cannot be deemed a forest unless
1. It is spread over a minimum of 10 hectares;
2. It has a minimum canopy density of 60%;
3. It has 75% native trees. Let us consider each one of these points in the laymen’s terms that We, the Government, can understand. First, according to FIFA rules, football fields should be between 0.62 and 0.82 hectares. So a forest of 10 hectares would cover much more than 10 football fields. Since the average private estate in our Garhwal Himalayas does not have that much tree cover suddenly, and without any public discourse, they are not ‘forests’ under the new Rules! In other words, most of the trees in the private estates in Mussoorie can now be felled. Mussoorie can become a fell with barren, treeless, slopes! So much for our proclaimed “awareness on environmental protection”! Second, to demand a minimum canopy density of 60% is absurd when our Forest Department has not been able to save its own green cover. In February 2018 it was reported that Uttarakhand had not managed to add even 1% to forest area. This was in spite of the disgraceful fact that, in December 2015, our state’s forest cover decreased by 268 sq kms. In spite of this culpable failure on the part of the protectors of our forest wealth we seek special grants from the Centre for our green cover. Our ancestors, and Nature, left us with such a great inheritance of natural wealth that even though we have been grossly wasteful with it, we still have more greenery than many others. But what is our Forest Department doing to ensure “a safe and good future” for us? Why are they so suspiciously, silently, smug? Third, our Forest Department’s apparent concern for “native trees” has only partial scientific backing. The teak tree was imported from Burma. Rubber was smuggled in from the same place or Malaya. Tea, which is actually a tree pruned down to a bush, was sneaked in from China. Coffee is a native of Ethiopia brought into India in a hollow stick by an Islamic seer. These, together, provide much of the green cover of our south and north-east. Under the smokescreen of an ‘invasive species’, predatory ‘developers’ must not be allowed to get away with bluff and bluster just because our netas are, possibly, simple and trusting people! A green tree, regardless of its origins, absorbs our exhaled carbon dioxide; replaces it with life-giving oxygen; moisturises and cools the atmosphere; allows rain, hail and snow to recharge our springs; fertilises and protects the soil beneath; is necessary for the entire cycle of life. Yet our netas and babus have passed these evil, environment-destroying Rules. “Evil” is the third meaning of ‘fell’. Our well-meaning CM needs to change his ‘developer’-biased forestry and environment advisers. Clearly, they are misleading him and spoiling his eco- friendly image. Moreover, our Legislators must revise these ecologically destructive Rules and reject all other temptations made by ‘developers’ with deep pockets. Uttarakhand is not for sale.