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Our Threatened Forests

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We, the Citizens

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

On paper, we should be the most environmentally-aware state in India.

The Forest Research Institute and the Wildlife Institute of India are based here. The Save Mussoorie Society, with the help of RLEK, appealed to the Supreme Court and threw out the rapacious quarriers. The Supreme Court Monitoring Committee was formed and so was the Friends of the Doon. Young activists came together to create the very visible MAD.

And yet our forests and wildlife habitats are endangered. Why? We reproduce, below, extracts from a letter written by a citizen of Uttarakhand to the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee.

“I am appalled by the … Uttarakhand state government’s decision to denotify the Shivalik Elephant Reserve…170 elephants have been lost since 2015, from a variety of causes… The calamitous effects of our wanton behaviour are already upon us. Let us not make it worse. Apart from being a long standing member of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee I am also the Founder member of a long standing environment NGO, the Friends of the Doon Society. I can assure you we stand with other NGOs and environmentalists on these issues… Our mandate is to uphold the return of the “natural normalcy” of the Doon valley”

The term natural normalcy was used by the Supreme Court when specifying the reasons for setting up the high-powered Supreme Court Monitoring Committee in Uttarakhand.

Our Uttarakhand was formed on 9th November 2000. One of the reasons for carving out our Himalayan state from lowland Uttar Pradesh was that ‘plains people’ could not understand our highlanders’ problems. So what have we done with the bonanza of bio-diversity and dense forests we inherited? Here are quotations we have gleaned from the National Media.

1. 9.3k trees felled in ’02 too for airport: RTI. An RTI response has now revealed that as many as 9,358 trees were also felled for the development of the airport in 2002. Majority of the trees were teak trees. The RTI was filed by Citizens for Green Doon.

2. Further large scale felling of trees may take away Jumbo habitat. Among the 9,358 trees that were felled in 2,002 for the airport, 7,645 were timber (Grade B teak) Notably, Uttarakhand is home to more than 2,000 elephants.

3. Uttarakhand lost 50k ha. forest in 20 years. Data has revealed that the state which had over 70% forest land has lost about 50,000 hectares of its forests to various development activities in the past 20 year

4. Lawyers from across India write to U’khand HC. More than 85 lawyers from different parts of the country have now urged the Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High Court to intervene in the matter and protect the Himalayan state’s lone elephant reserve. They felt deeply disturbed and concerned about the reckless decision of the state wildlife board to denotify the Shivalik Elephant Reserve for the purpose of development activities and expansion of Jolly Grant Airport. The letter further says that the state government’s decision is hasty and short-sighted and is taken without due consideration for the natural environment and wildlife conservation despite the current challenges like climate change.

5. Dehradun lost the maximum forest area in 20 years. A district-wise analysis from November 2000 to March 2020 shows that Dehradun (21,303 ha) lost the maximum forest area.

We have, in an earlier column, reported on the state’s Forest officials attempting to change the definition of a forest. That would have, virtually, put the entire green cover of Uttarakhand at the mercy of rapacious contractors who lurk in the shadowy fringes of all governments. Happily this myopic proposal was shot down by New Delhi: or so we were told!
The 7,645 teak trees felled for the airport expansion point our thoughts in a rather unhappy direction. Nevertheless we would still prefer to believe that it was a lack of “application of mind” that led to such bad decisions.
But, if some arrogant netas feel that they can ignore the chorus of Citizens’ voices, that is self-destructive. All across the world, the Winterline of Despotic Netas has begun to appear. Jumlas of ‘development’, via expanded airports or gondolas in the sky, will no longer justify the plundering of our Threatened Forests.

(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.)