Published: Wednesday 31 August 2005

Save the forest

Closed forest cover is only about 11.6 per cent in our country ('Can we use our forests well?' Down To Earth July 31, 2005). We cannot bring back the forest area to 33 per cent as envisaged in the National Forest Policy, 1988 and, therefore, saving the existing forest is most important. We may be able to create more plantations but not the virgin natural forest. Due to the mounting anthropogenic pressures even forests in protected areas are degrading.

The recent Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill 2005 -- tabled by the Union ministry of tribal welfare -- is obviously pro-tribal without any consideration for forests and wildlife conservation. If passed, it will be a deathblow to the forest ecosystem. The Union government has already taken a decision to relocate and rehabilitate tribals residing inside the forest, spending about Rs 1 lakh per family. At the same time, for the sake of a few tribals, the present bill cannot override the several acts, rules and regulations in place to protect, conserve and manage forests -- some of them more than a hundred years old.

Forests are complex life support systems, whose intangible values cannot be estimated accurately. However, the government has made a rough estimate, under Forest Conservation Act 1980 for the purpose of releasing forestland for non-forestry purposes. Such precious forests should not be doled out to tribal families. At the same time, providing electricity, water, roads, schools and hospitals inside the forests will take away some more land. Most of the allotted forestlands (2.0 ha per tribal family) under the India eco-development project, remained undeveloped.

The tribal people are tempted to mortgage or lease their lands unofficially to non-tribal entrepreneurs, who develop them into resorts or cultivate them for profit.

Instead, providing suitable employment to tribal people should be sought. Politicians, who are more worried about their votes than environment protection, should also be briefed about the value of our forests.


Return of the tiger

From 22 nd May this year, we have been conducting a campaign for the rehabilitation and conservation of tigers in the Sariska Tiger Reserve. Volunteers have been going door-to-door: to date, 20,000 signatures have been collected and the target is 1 lakh. This is also an exercise to know the perception of the people and their concern for and relationship with the tiger. The suggestions will be compiled and presented to the prime minister to take necessary action.

We also aim to create a movement in Alwar city, through street plays and poster competitions. This will culminate in a human chain later in August, when all the volunteers go on bicycles to meet the prime minister. The Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar and All India Radio, Alwar are supporting this cause.

Nirvanavan Foundation, Alwar

One of the successes of the World Wildlife Fund ( now Worldwide Fund for Nature or wwf), was saving the Barasingha in the Kanha National Park, where captive breeding successfully revived a dying species.

Of course, herbivores and carnivores have different needs, but surely a similar experiment in Sariska could be tried, especially as tigers breed easily in captivity. They could be bred in an enclosure and released in due course.

Koramangala, Bangalore...

Back to basics

Galloway's justification of the inorganic use of fertilisers ('We increasingly rely on inorganic fertilisers', Down To Earth, March 15, 2005) is based upon his experience in the us or other industrialised countries that do not consider natural sustenance as a way of life! Even in India, the government, especially the western-educated bureaucracy, is apathetic towards our traditions that are sustainable in nature.

In the traditional Indian context, there is an association of livestock and food production. Increased use of mechanical power has meant a reduction in livestock rearing and neglect of biomanuring. The consequent lack of nitrogen affects soil fertility and lowers the quality of food, fruit and vegetables. What can help here is fungi like mycorrhiza, that multiply at the roots of plants, fix nitrogen and can offset the bad effects of urea use. Similarly, instead of industrialised production, we can have crops growing in rotation.


Down the drain

The number of households surveyed in each city, by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, is too small to give a correct picture ('Freshwater up for grabs', Down To Earth, May 15, 2005). What's needed is a comprehensive survey of other cities and some smaller towns of the quantum of water use for cooking, drinking, washing or toilets. The other problem in municipal towns is taps -- broken, leaking or just missing -- draining out even the available water.


Development is a paper tiger

The special issue of Aniket, a weekly published simultaneously from Gopeshwar and Rudraprayag in Uttaranchal, probes the pace of development in the border district of Chamoli in the past four and a half decades. Edited by Ramesh Pahadi, it is a comprehensive and realistic comment on the approach of planners towards the hill regions.

The well-researched, 86-page volume brings up some disturbing data. The so-called river-district, with perennial rivers such as the Pindar, Dholi, Nandakini and Kel Mandakini flowing through it, still cannot provide adequate potable water to its people. Areas under seasonal crops, in both summer and winter, has gone down, while land under irrigation, despite substantial funds spend on creating irrigation facilities, has shrunk. Grain production has also reduced by around 18,000 metric tonnes.

Despite claims by the state government that over 81,000 milch cattle were brought in, there are only 1,079 crossbred cows, and indigenous livestock has reduced greatly. Similarly, the horticulture department claims that vegetable production (for the year 2002-2003) in the district was 32,563 tonnes, plus 35,540 tonnes of potato. This leaves a mysterious surplus of 51,205 tonnes.

Meanwhile, small-scale industries have just about gone up, from 284 in 1965 to a mere 1,484 in 2001. Traditional enterprises nosedived from 5,500 in 1965 to 500 at present. 72 per cent of the villagers in Chamoli still don't have any means of transportation and around 50 per cent are 5-45 kilometres from the motorable road. Only 327 of 1,134 inhabited rural settlements in the district have proper access to telecommunications facilities.

Says a local activist on the report's findings, "corruption rampant in all government departments is a tell-tale symptom of the complacency and passiveness of the administration."

Bhimtal, Uttaranchal...

Manas menace

unesco has threatened to withdraw the World Heritage Site protection conferred on the Manas National Park and Tiger Reserve. This is an extremely unfortunate development, because if that protection is removed, the park is sure to go to the doldrums.

But the threat has a very real basis in the ground reality that exists in the park. Today in Manas every rule is grossly violated. Frequent convoys of diesel trucks and vehicles, carrying passengers to Bhutan, are allowed passage through the core area of the national park. Rampant poaching and logging are disturbing the ecological balance. Wildlife here, especially the rhino, has declined.

Immediate government intervention is required to save this biodiversity hot spot.

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