By: Rahul Saxena
I am not a dedicated tree lover as most of our urban friends are. Their stand is justified in their own way, considering the perpetual scarcity of clean air in the cities. Having lived in Himachal for sometime, I also understand that our planners’ enthusiasm to see trees on 50% of the land has played havoc with the ecology and peoples’ livelihoods.
Most of the plantations that we have in the lower altitudes of the state are those of Chir pines. While these plantations may lend a verdant look to the landscape, look beneath the surface, and you shall find a combination of obnoxious weeds, eroded top-soil, exposed under-strata and inflammable leaf litter of pines. These plantations are set afire, almost every year, by the locals in the hope of getting those few blades of grass, which they used to get before most common grasslands and scrub forests were planted with monoculture of pines.
This act triggers the cycle of degradation, which ends with the land becoming devoid of soil and the local biodiversity. There is no solution to ecological rehabilitation of these plantations but to convert them into mixed specie-stands with trees/shrubs/grasses/creepers that provide the local people with some benefits and increase their stake in protecting the forest. A debate on whether trees are better than shrubs/grasses holds no significance as all of these are nature’s creations and all have their own different comparative advantages (even pine trees for that matter, if planted judiciously). Moreover, if a piece of land is enclosed for the protection of the planted trees, the grass yield will increase. Also, improved grasses, shrubs and creepers can be added to the area if the local people express the need.
Sadly, the functioning of the Forest Department during the past century and a half of implementing colonial policies has alienated the common people in the villages from their forests. Forests, which were once common property are now considered government property.
Hence, the notion, that anything concerned with the forests should be on the government’s agenda and not the people’s; including planting trees on forest land/protecting them/making systems of sharing of benefits from forest resources. Until all of us, the Forest Department employees, the people’s advocates and the people themselves efface this notion, forest resources in our state will keep getting degraded and decimated, affecting ecosystem conservation and people’s livelihoods.
The author is member and Secretary of Palampur based NGO – Lok Vigyan Kendra .