Published: Tuesday 15 July 2003

On the forest trail

The editorial 'Our forests are burning' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 20, March 15, 2003) expresses deep anguish over inevitable confrontations during various drives by the forest departments to clear encroachments. It is obvious that the majority of encroachers want to live in forests in violation of the law. When law is overruled by popular opinion, disaster cannot be far.

As a citizen of India, the constitution guarantees me the right to life. Legal authorities have held that right to live includes the right to a clean and healthy environment. Therefore, I expect encroachers to be evicted from forests so that I am able to enjoy this right completely. People (like me) who stay away from forests have an equal claim over them. Just because we have been unable to organise ourselves and shout about our rights, it does not mean that the government should ignore us.

I feel your anguish is misplaced. Encroachers have no business to stay on forestland. Enough is enough. Already we have lost thousands of acres of valuable forest area to such illegal occupants. They usually stay in the forests, use its water resources and deprive the wildlife of its prime habitat. an instance of the latter is the elephant-human conflict wherein the pachyderms have no place left to obtain their food and water.

You should appreciate the efforts of the 'wildlife chest beaters', who have been forced to move the Supreme Court in view of the state government's total disregard for our forest wealth. The Central Empowered Committee is doing an extremely good job.

Poverty should not be used as a convenient alibi for breaking laws. If somebody is deprived, it does not mean that they acquire certain rights, which are outside the ambit of law. Would you hesitate to evict a homeless person who occupies North Block and stakes a claim over it? If we allow people to acquire rights based on needs then there would no end to it. Can we let the poor rob the rich only because they are needy?

So far, state governments overlooked the large-scale encroachments in forest areas since these insecure inhabitants constitute a dependable vote bank. Politicians invariably assured them that they would get pattas. We should immediately evict the encroachers and restore the forests to their original state. The article rightly points out that most of India's forests, mangrove swamps and lakes are places of rich biodiversity. But remember if we fail to remove these intruders, these areas will become dead soon. The time has come to choose between allowing our forests to flourish, or let them turn into settlement colonies.

There can be organised resettlement on the revenue land, which invariably borders the forest areas in all states. This would ensure that the poor would get some farmland. Besides, they will be able to collect non-timber forest products. No honeycombing of the forests should be allowed, as it would lead to the invasion by exotic weeds. Vast areas of Orissa are now lost to the ubiquitous 'eupatorium' weed. These lands, meant for cultivation and grazing, now only possess this deadly weed.

No amount of plantations can create the richness and diversity of our natural forests. It is more important to save our existing natural forests. Let us preserve whatever little is left of our forests, and try to extend the forest cover over one-third of the country's area.

Wildlife Society of Orissa

Carrying on the Kyoto torch

Not only in the Iraqi war, but in many other issues, the us has developed a unilateral policy style over the last few years. One such instance is the international climate policy. President George W Bush declared his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol -- the international pact on climate change -- in spring 2001. However, the international community -- instead of bowing to the us -- surprisingly responded strongly and continued the multilateral approach. The absence of the us clearly weakened Kyoto Protocol targets. But due to the now pivotal role of Russia and Japan to achieve the minimum threshold necessary for ratification -- the institutional basis laid down in the Marrakech Accords in late 2001 is far-reaching -- and can serve as a model for an international response to a long-term global problem.

What were the reasons for the resilience of the multilateral approach? As the necessity of the climate policy is widely accepted, the institutional basis for climate policy was not contested. The hypocritical nature of Bush's announcement led to rallying of international resolve to save the Kyoto Protocol and, may thus, have had the opposite effect than intended. The protocol allowed for enough issue linkages to give benefits to almost all countries involved. Hence, developing countries got transfers in several new funds and can host projects under the clean development mechanism. Countries in transition have hot air to sell. Many countries with substantial emission increases can access high amounts of carbon sinks.

The success of isolating the us in the international climate policy has to be maintained. At the eighth conference of parties (cop-8) held in Delhi in 2002, the us tried to alienate developing countries from industrialised countries by stressing on the costs the former would have to bear if they took on emission targets from 2012 onwards. Ironically, prior to Bush's withdrawal, the us had always argued that developing countries would have to take up targets.

Rumours circulate that the us tried to bribe Russia from ratifying the protocol. If the hurdle of Russian ratification is overcome, the negotiations of emission targets for the second commitment period becomes the real test of the resilience of multilateral action to fight climate change. Many observers already argue that the interests of the us will have to be accommodated here and that the protocol should be discarded in favour of multiple treaties. In their opinion, this would enhance flexibility. I contend that the Kyoto Protocol remains an excellent base for international climate policy and has all flexibilities to accommodate several commitment periods and an extended group of countries taking up commitments.


Trash facts

The letter 'Urban garbage' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 1, May 31, 2003) is excellent and provocative. At present, collection and disposal of garbage is a big issue in our country. If we ignore it, then it will become a giant problem in the future.

I firmly believe that there is 'gold in the garbage'. Unfortunately, I don't have much knowledge about it. It would be great if an article is published about certain aspects of garbage disposal such as the amount of garbage in our country at present, the quantity of 'gold' one can find from the garbage and the interest shown by the government in this matter.


Drain of woes

I stay in Gautam Nagar in Govindpura, Bhopal, a colony developed by the Madhya Pradesh Housing Board. Adjacent to our locality is Rachna Nagar, which has private housing societies. Unfortunately, this colony does not have a sewage disposal system and all the sewer lines from the houses discharge sewage into a nearby nalah (drain). This nalah drains rainwater during the monsoons and carries overflowing water from waterworks upstream.

The sewage from the houses located in Rachna Nagar flows openly into the nalah resulting in a foul smell. This nalah also draws pigs in large numbers. The slum dwellers also use a part of the nalah for defecation.

Several letters to editors of local newspapers have gone in vain. Most of the people living in this locality feel that nothing will be done to improve the current situation.


Vital contribution

I am a student of linguistics and have just finished M A in linguistics from Deccan College, Pune. I read the cover story 'Words are biotic' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 15, December 31, 2002) with great interest. I even used some information and a map from the article in my final year dissertation -- 'Critical Appraisal of Different Approaches to Linguistic Diversity' with proper acknowledgements. I take this opportunity to thank the author and the magazine for the help I received from the article.


Travel tips

The statistics regarding the amount of waste produced by railway commuters given in the article 'Poor track record' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 24, May 15, 2003) is shocking. Although an effective waste management programme is essential, more importantly, commuters should feel responsible for being negligent in disposing waste.

I have noticed that though some trains have a dustbin at the end of the boggie, commuters seldom make use of such facilities and more often prefer the easier option -- the window. The message I would like to put forth is that we cannot always hold others responsible for our misdeeds.

To reduce pollution we can follow a few simple steps while commuting by trains:

Carry your own water from home. This will help reduce the amount of plastic bottles disposed every day

Collect all non-biodegradable waste in a bag and throw it in a bin when you alight from the train

Use reusable containers for food such as steel boxes instead of polythene bags or disposable plastic boxes

Take your own tumbler to drink tea/coffee.

These simple steps, if followed, will help us help the railways serve us better.

Bangalore, Karnataka...

Official protest

On behalf of the ifs Association, we would like to draw your attention to the editorial of the issue dated 15th March, 2003. Whereas we appreciate your concerns for people living in forests and about politician pushing people into the already strained forests for vote bank; we at the same time are shocked over your sweeping generalisation about forest and wildlife bureaucracy so much so that you have stated that we have a "virtually non-existence Environment and Forest Minister". We strongly condemn the statement of yours and will request you to get yourself updated with the achievements made by m o ef in the tenure of Shri T R Baalu, who is known for his deep concern for forestry and wildlife sector and takes tough decisions based on realities and not for vote bank. It appears that either you are not aware with the developments in the forestry and wildlife sector or as Mrs Maneka Gandhi in the same issue has rightly mentioned that you are trying only to specialise in "brownnosing those in government". This is high time to stop it and support the conscious stand taken by m o ef under the Leadership of Mr Baalu, if we want wildlife, biodiversity and ecological security of country to be conserved.

We do hope this letter is published for the benefit of the readers.

Yours sincerely,
Secretary General
IFS Association (Central Unit)
Room No 201, Ashok Hotel
New Delhi

copy to: Hon'ble Minister, Minister, Environment and Forests, Paryawaran Bhavan, CGO Complex, 4th Floor, Lodhi Road, New Delhi for kind information....

Where to fish?

This is in response to the editorial 'Our forests are burning' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 20, March 15, 2003). The editorial criticised the Central Empowered Committee set up by the Supreme Court of India stating: "It ignored recorded evidence of the presence of transit fisherfolk and passed orders to display and destroy." I would like to inform you that recorded evidence of the presence of transit fisherfolk were on the sandy areas around Jambudwip island. This is as per the publication 'The Moon and Net: Study of a Transient Community of Fishermen at Jambudwip ' published by the Archaeological Survey of India.

There is no recorded evidence of transit fisherfolk drying their fish inside the forests. Satellite images taken in 1981 show that there weren't any clearing of forests in the whole island. In fact, the clearing of forests for drying fish started after 1981 and went up to more than 200 hectares in 2002. Recorded data also mentions the presence of wild boars, snakes and other wildlife in the Jambudwip island, which have totally disappeared today due to the intervention of fish merchants, who dry fish.

The island named 'Lower-Long-Sand Island' which has been suggested as an alternative to Jambudwip for fish drying has no mangrove forests. The island is almost barren except for five hectares of casuarina plantation raised in the past by the forest department. The island is outside the reserved forest area and fish drying activity in that island will not attract provisions of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

Conservator of Forests (S)
and Joint Director
Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve

In response

Since 1958, from October to February, the Jalia Kaibartha fisherfolk have been using a sandy stretch of land southwest of the Jambudwip island for drying their fish. This stretch, contrary to what N V Raja Shekar, the conservator of forests of Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve claims, never moved inside the forest area. It has always remained contiguous to the southern sandy stretch along the banks of the creek. Without the creek, the fisherfolk will not be in a position to take their fish catch to the sandy areas above the inert-tidal zone for drying as there is knee-deep mud around the seaboard of Jambudwip.

Satellite images for the period between 1981 to 2001 are irrefutable proof of forest encroachments put forth by the Central Empowered Committee (cec) in its report on Jambudwip. However, the scientific veracity of this proof needs to be independently verified. We have learnt that satellite images capable of showing deforestation to the extent of 200 hectares is possible only with liss iii maps, which the National Remote Sensing Agency (nrsa) started producing only from 1998.

We also comprehend that Jambudwip, contrary to what is shown as dense forests -- in the nrsa imageries attached to the cec report -- in fact, has only successive stages of vegetation, comprising mainly Avicennia species of mangroves and grass species such as Porteraesia coarctata and Phoenix paludosa. It is possible that some mangrove trees were felled in the past to cook food and to dye fishing nets. The fisherfolk are willing to use liquefied petroleum gas stoves. Dyeing the nets is unrequired as now the fisherfolk use nylon fishing nets. Moreover, all the three species mentioned above are easy to regenerate.

There were suggestions made to the cec on how mangrove protection and fish drying could actually coexist in Jambudwip. Allowing seasonal fishery in a fenced area and providing full protection to mangroves beyond the fenced area was proposed as an e.

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