tree felling

Recently former legislator of Himachal Pradesh Bambar Thakur has made a strong indictment of indiscriminate and illegal tree felling at various places in Bilaspur District. He has pointed out very specific sites where such felling of trees has taken place. He has also alleged that when local persons have drawn attention to such felling no action has been taken and hence the mafia involved in such felling has felt emboldened to continue its destructive activities. He has also threatened to launch a protest action if this illegal tree felling is not checked.

While such reports of illegal felling are reported from time to time from Himalayan region, well-informed local persons feel that even more green trees are being felled in  legal ways in the course of executing the construction of various development projects including extra-wide highways, tunnels and hydro projects. Here the question is not the illegality, but whether a large number of these threatened trees could have been saved by more careful planning and better environmental appraisal of these projects.

In the case of several projects involving widening of highways, several experts are of the opinion that thousands and thousands of invaluable trees could have been saved. It is possible to manage increasing traffic, several local persons say, without widening roads across such long stretches. Solutions can emerge if local persons are consulted. Trees can be saved and displacement problems will also be reduced.

This issue has been particularly serious in the Char Dham Project Highway in Uttarakhand where in the catchment areas of the Ganga and its tributaries it is all the more important to save every tree that can be saved. As this highway connects sites of great spiritual importance, tree felling on a massive scale is entirely out of tune with the spiritual aspects of this work. Yet the entire experience so far reveals clearly that the excessive widening work could have been easily reduced to save thousands of trees.

Suresh Bhai, a senior activist involved in several tree-protection efforts including the Raksha Sutra movement, told this writer some time back that when a single big tree is felled in this Himalayan region several neighboring trees can also be damaged  and some upcoming smaller trees can be simply destroyed. Those who view trees as timber do not all mind such extra damage.

However when officials have been careful about minimizing damage then they have been able to save a large number of trees. In Henvalghati region of Tehri Garhwal district ( Uttarakhand), when the power lines for transmission of electricity produced by the Tehri Dam project were being laid, local villagers led by Kunwar Prasun, an experienced activist of Chipko Movement, asserted that the number of trees marked for felling were many more than what was strictly needed. A delegation went to meet the concerned officials and fortunately they turned out to be responsive. A joint exercise was then taken up with the help and involvement of people to take a decision on which trees identified earlier for felling could be saved, and in the process several thousand trees were saved.

Recently Suresh Bhai has written that a large number of trees, particularly deodar trees are threatened even in the most ecologically crucial and spiritually revered area from Uttarkashi to Gangotri. One hopes that some initiative can still be taken up to protect these threatened trees.

While many trees are being felled recklessly, at the same time the progress of catchment treatment plans in the context of many dam and hydel projects has been badly delayed. Also the planning in the case of some projects has been very peculiar. Once travelling in the distant Bundelkhand region I came across a place where some trees had been planted and I was astonished to learn that this was the compensatory tree planting taken up for the trees destroyed by the Tehri dam project. How can some trees planted in such a distant place compensate for the harm done in the Himalayan region is really beyond understanding.

Clearly there is urgent need to check excessive tree-felling  in the Himalayan region and the guiding precept should be to try as much as possible to save every tree.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘Vimla and Sunderlal Bahuguna—Chipko Movement and the Struggle Against  Tehri Dam Project’ and ‘India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food.’


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