Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Deforestation in India: Why I don't buy the Govt argument (II)

 In my previous blog, I shared with you the government's unacceptable explanation ("Maoists are behind it") on large-scale deforestation in Andhra Pradesh - the state that is the single largest forest cover loser in India.
Today, lets look at North east - the other area with big loss of green cover - 549 square km to be exact. And here the government has blamed two factors for the loss:  biotic pressure and shifting cultivation in the region. Once again, I am not buying that. No, its not as though these don't exist. They do. What I say is that these are neither the 'only',nor the 'main' causes.

The real causes are, and I say this as a Northeasterner, combination of some state-backed or state-neglected wrong activities that include smuggling, allowing of industrial units to operate in forest areas, indiscriminate mining, and illegal logging. 
Lets look at Meghalaya to see an example.

The state of  Meghalaya has lost 46 sq km of forest cover (and currently has 77.02 per cent green area). In a recent statement  Ranjit Singh Gill, Joint Director, Forest Survey of India (FSI), himself said that roughly 12 million cubic feet of timber worth several thousand crores of rupees was felled in the reserved forests in Garo Hills of Meghalya.

Coming from the North East,  I will be insane to buy the govt story  -"biotic pressure and shifting cultivation" - on deforestation in the region

Earlier, in 2010, the then Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh had rejected a proposal from the Department of Atomic Energy for exploratory drilling for uranium in the South Garo Hills of Meghalaya.  The reason cited was that there had already been rampant illegal mining in the region, which had already hurt the sentiments of the local population. Therefore, new mining should not be allowed to further "exploit"  the region for its rich natural resources.

Ramesh has since been shifted out of environment ministry. But the same 'exploitation' continues. Today, a number of cement companies are operating right within the state's dense forest areas. According to a RTI filed by Mait Shaphrang Movement (MSM)- a local NGO, the government knowingly gave consent to the cement plants to be set up there. What is the damage caused by the cement companies? According to Michael N Syiem,  convenor of MSM,  if these cement companies were to compensate for mining in forests areas the value would be in millions of rupees.

But of course the government will not accept any of this. The shifting cultivation (or 'jhum' as the locals call it) has been, like the Maoists in Andhra, the govt's favorite excuse for decades of tree felling, so much so, it sometimes they appear ridiculous. 

Let me give two other examples: There is a place called Lal Ganesh on the outskirts of Guwahati. About 15 years ago, a relative of mine (a retired govt employee) bought some land there and built  a house. Everyone was shocked; it was a thick forest area and how could the relative stay in such a jungle? Today, so many illegal immigrants have settled there, the forest is long gone history. Now who practiced shifting cultivation there?

Traveling from Assam to Tripura, you cross a place called Choraibadi - a border town. Even 10 years ago, I saw thick forests there all along. Today its almost a bald patch. If you are traveling after dark, you can see line of trucks. Everyone knows they carry timber and are being smuggled to Bangladesh. Where do they come from?

These are just a few of so many examples! Today a few are pointing them, tomorrow it will be common people doing that. So, rather than a denial act, the government should put its power where it is needed: tackling deforestation by checking encroachment ,illegal timber trade, and rampant mining.


Prarthana Banikya Borkakoti said...

I loved reading yours posts on forests. Deforestation has been something that has affected me in ways more than one and has taken the form of poetry now. So glad to see you writing about it. Already a follower! :)

Prarthana Banikya Borkakoti said...

I loved reading yours posts on forests. Deforestation has been something that has affected me in ways more than one and has taken the form of poetry now. So glad to see you writing about it. Already a follower! :)

Anonymous said...

I have recently come back from a trip to Meghalaya and I was very disappointed to see the amount of deforestation. Before I planned my trip I had envisioned seeing lots of natural forest and instead I saw vast areas of hills with no vegetation except for grass, especially on a trip from Shillong to Sohra in the south. This trip left me feeling very disappointed and upset, especially when I know that the government is blaming shifting cultivation, when in essence, the evidence of the real culprits is all around, such as mining. Rivers were polluted with soil and runoff from the mines. The villages we passed along the way looked strange devoid of trees.
We spent two days in Cherupunjee and visited the tree bridges. Here a balance has been struck between the indigeneous people and the forest. They understand the importance of the forest to their lives.
The Indian government needs to do a lot of work and prevent corruption if they are to conserve the biodiversity that is left and ensure that the people who live on this land have a future. One that is connected to the land and provides and enriches their lives. A life without nature is surely a life not worth living.
Concerned Australian Traveller