Why India’s celebrating World Water Day and Forest Day is a farce

Instead of salvaging these highly essential resources, our country is busy butchering them

By Mehak Aggarwal
Published: Thursday 21 March 2019
Water and forests
Representational Photo. Credit: Getty Images Representational Photo. Credit: Getty Images

We will be busy celebrating International Day of Forests on March 21 and World Water Day on March 22. We will watch our leaders talk big on water conservation and the importance of forests. But let us, for a moment, turn a blind eye to the receding water levels and depleting forest cover in our country.

If water tables could speak, there would have been wails everywhere. If trees could bleed, a river of blood would have spread across our roads.

Water is the most valuable resource on our planet and an essential component of every ecosystem because all living beings need it to support their living processes. Many of us who live in big cities, enjoy a carefree lifestyle, with 24x7 running taps, swimming pools, jacuzzis and decorative fountains. Sheltered by this layer of comfort, we remain unaware of the impact of these water-intensive activities on our environment.

Rapid urbanisation and water pollution have widened the supply and demand gap, putting enormous pressure on the quality of surface and groundwater bodies. Clean water is destined to become one of the rarest commodities soon, if the general public is not educated about the significance of storing, recycling and reusing water. 

Trees play a big role in water conservation — they absorb water and release it into the atmosphere — the average tree breathes out 250-400 or more gallons of water in one day. On the opposite end of the spectrum, trees also reduce flooding by intercepting approximately 1,000 gallons of water per year per mature tree!

Unfortunately, both these saviours of life are being butchered at the hands of humanity, supposedly the most intelligent creation of the Creator. Instead of conserving water, we are wasting it and instead of improving our forest cover to desired levels, we are ruthlessly cutting trees to pave way for our “development”.

In India, around 83 per cent of available fresh water is being used for agriculture. Rainfall being the primary source of fresh water, the concept behind conserving water is to harvest it when it falls and wherever it falls. The importance of storing rainwater through different techniques can be understood by an example of the desert city of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, which is water self-sufficient despite experiencing meagre rainfall, as against Cherrapunji, which is blessed with the highest rainfall in the world, but still faces water shortage due to lack of water conservation methods.

The website of Niti Ayog shows that India has 21.23 per cent of its land under forests, as against the 33 per cent recommended in the National Forest Policy. While Punjab tops the list from below, with just 3.52 per cent forest cover, its immediate neighbour, Haryana, is satisfied with being first runner-up, again from below, with a forest cover of 3.59 per cent.

Custodians of forests are busy in building their own individual empires out of their official authority.  For providing sanctions to projects, it is stated that a forest area is “non-forest land”. For justifying increase in staff/ labour, non-forest areas are shown as “forest land”. Following orders from the Supreme Court of India, the Union government had constituted a body, CAMPA, to manage funds (CAMPA funds) for afforestation, in order to compensate for deforestation done to give room for development projects.

CAMPA funds meant for compensatory afforestation are being grossly misappropriated by the custodians themselves. Environmental clearance for various projects is given by the government of India with certain conditions, to ensure that development doesn’t tax the environment. But it has become a practice to violate the conditions laid down and no one is bothered. More so, the permissions for development projects are still being given without bothering about compliance of conditions for environmental clearance in earlier sanctions.

Why is the government of India granting permissions after permissions/ environment clearance of projects where none bothers to care for the environment? In the name of compliance, the buck is just passed to the contractor.

Recently, the Centre released the National Forest Survey 2017. In Punjab’s case, the data/imagery projected as of 2017, is actually of 2015, before the mass scale felling of trees along the Bist Doab canal, the Banur canal and other project sites. The actual forest cover of Punjab as in 2017 or today, after massive deforestation, is much less.  Better imaging technology has come up, so the areas that were missed earlier have also been captured. The forest cover in the Survey includes forest as well as trees on private lands. That defeats the very purpose of assessment of forest cover.

Under the prevailing conditions, it would be in the fitness of things to spread awareness about methods of water conservation and give exemplary punishment to those who are digging the graves of human civilization by indulging in scams to the detriment of our ecology in which, hangs the future of the world and for the cause of which people have laid down their lives.

The author is an engineering student at Panjab University, Chandigarh

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