The sapling brigade

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Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

IN JANUARY, Doordarshan aired a documentary called The Green Brigade, which despite a typical Films Division tone, was informative, interesting and even balanced. It was on the Ecological Task Force (ETF) set up by the army to take up reforestation and ecological stabilisation in inhospitable regions.

The ETF consists of former jawans -- one of the opening shots is of soldiers carrying saplings instead of guns on their shoulders. Army discipline is essential for this force to be effective in its new calling: it doesn't matter how tough a reclamation job is -- if you are ordered to do it, you do it. "We get tasks and orders to reclaim mines -- we have to deliver those tasks," say the jawans. The reference here is to limestone mines in the Himalayan foothills.

The documentary scans some of the areas where the ETF has been deployed, including desert areas where it has consolidated sand dunes. Regenerating inhospitable terrain is costly and not really cost-effective. This, the film says, is because of the way the army works. But the ecological costs of neglecting degraded areas would be much higher. The survival of saplings in inhospitable regions is also low -- local participation in looking after what has been reclaimed is not always forthcoming. But when the ETF works in an area, its presence does have some effect in increasing local consciousness about the ecological problems there.

The issue of disembodiment of the ETF and the limitations of what the force can do are also discussed in what is really quite an objective film. But it is full of both verbal and visual cliches. Apart from Kamal Nath mouthing phrases like "the need of the hour" and a cliched commentary, the film ends with a sunset silhouette: the kind DD documentary makers love to use.

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