Who will save forests?

By Rajdeep Pathak

On June 5, 2020, World Environment Day, His Holiness the Dalai Lama took to Twitter and called upon citizens of the world to have what he said, “Global responsibility and a proper inner environment within each of us”, which he believed, “will contribute to the conservation and protection of our common mother, the Earth, ensuring the survival of life, as we know it, in all its diversity, beauty and sustainability”.
The supreme Tibetan leader was indicating towards developing a compassionate heart and nurturing a feeling of mutual coexistence amongst nature, human and wildlife. The Dalai Lama had earlier on April 22 (Earth Day) tweeted: “We can no longer exploit the resources of this earth — the trees, the water and other natural resources — without any care for coming generations. Common sense tells us that unless we change, we won’t survive. This Earth Day let’s resolve to live in harmony with nature”.
Sadly, after less than a month on May 27, a pregnant wild elephant that strayed into the Mannarkatt forest ranges in the Palghat district of Kerala from the Silent Valley National Park in search of food was fed pineapple stuffed with crackers and left to die. This poses a serious question on the conservation of ‘biodiversity’ which coincidentally also happened to be the theme of this year’s Environment Day.
Another similar disaster struck a pregnant cow on June 6 in the Jhanduta area of Bilaspur district in Himachal Pradesh when some people had allegedly tried a disgusting prank with fireworks in the field that shattered the cow’s jaw and her face was literally torn apart leaving the poor animal in a pool of blood.
While such appalling incidents are just a miniscule of what happens to most of the animals who run into human habitat, the obvious question is why do these animals move out from their natural habitats to fall into a larger trap of human viciousness? Human penetration into natural surroundings for greed in the name of development despite adequate legislation is causing grave danger to climatic conditions.
Despite the pandemic and the threat of diseases hidden in ice waking up, scientists argue that climate change is melting permafrost soils that have been frozen for thousands of years, releasing ancient viruses and bacteria that, having lain dormant, are springing back to life. We are ignoring the warning that as the Earth warms, more permafrost will melt opening a Pandora’s Box of diseases.
Talking about biodiversity, the United Nations defines biodiversity as: “The foundation that supports all life on land and below water. It affects every aspect of human health… Human actions including deforestation, encroachment on wildlife habitats, intensified agriculture, and acceleration of climate change have pushed nature beyond its limit.”
What is also of importance in this context is to note that there are historical evidences of ancient people and tribes protecting their forests and keeping it sacredly secret from the outside world. They have traditionally maintained forest as their place of refuge where humans and other habitats live together and therefore forests became sacrosanct.
Such forests like the sacred groves of Mawphlang, 25 km south east of Shillong, offer the finest example of myth and modernity in perfect harmony. Covering almost 75 hectares of land and like all sacred groves in Ri Hynniewtrep (Khasi and Jaintia Hills) have existed since time immemorial. People believe that their sylvan deities live inside these groves and that they would be offended if anyone causes damage to the plants and animals there.
Also, the Dehing Patkai (Dehing is the name of the river that flows through the forest and Patkai is the hill at the foot of which the wild life sanctuary lies) reserve is believed to be the last remaining contiguous patch of rainforest (also known as the Jeypore Rainforest) in the Upper Assam Region. Saleki, which is also a part of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve, includes sanctuary covering 111.19 sq km of rainforest and several reserve forests in Sivasagar, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts of Assam.
While there is a dispute over the proposal for use of 98.59 hectares of land from the Saleki proposed reserve forest land for a coal mining project by North-Eastern Coal Field (NECF), a unit of Coal India Limited and the matter is sub-judice, it isn’t wise to comment on the legalities of the said matter.
But it needs to be mentioned that being a completely virgin rainforest, this sanctuary is very rich in biodiversity with almost 47 mammal species, 47 reptile species and 310 butterfly species which have been recorded.
The different trees of this four-layered rainforest are laden with many exotic species of orchids and bromeliads. There is an abundance of ferns, epiphytes, wild banana, orchids, arums, climbers and linas in this humid forest habitat. Many important tree species such as Hollang, Mekai, Dhuna, Udiyam, Nahar, Samkothal, Bheer, Hollock, Nahor, Au – tenga (elephant apple), different species of Dimoru etc are also found here. The towering Hollong tree which is also the state tree of Assam dominates the emergent layer of this rainforest.
It is a disaster that our greed has overcome our conscience so much that our memories of deadliest natural disasters are short-lived.
It also poses serious questions on the influx of industrialisation that has crept into the very system of functioning. Our disproportionate development of ends and means has led us towards collapse and extinction. The disaster has befallen on the people and the environment per se at Upper Assam’s Baghjan oilfield where since June 9, flames have been emanating.
Environmentalists talk of the inevitable damage to the nearby Dibru Saikhowa National Park and Maguri-Motapung Beel wetland as irreversible in its effects with carcinogenic oil condensate being spotted as far as 5 km from the site of the disaster.
There are innumerable questions that remain unanswered — the first obviously is why such a set-up was permitted to function in so close proximity to an ecologically sensitive area? What were the safety measures formulated and why was there a lax in the overall management/functioning?
We must realise that such forests have maintained the balance between human, nature and other species, and, therefore, human intervention will further be disastrous.
Compassion, commitment and connection have been the key factors for the survival of humankind. Kristalina Georgieva, managing director, IMF, recently said, “The best memorial we can build for those who lost their lives in the pandemic is a greener, smarter, fairer world.” Are we really moving in this direction? Are we listening?

(The author is programme executive at
Gandhi Smriti and
Darshan Samiti,
New Delhi)

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