By: Rahul Saxena
The species of trees that were heavily planted during the ’70s and the ’80s in the lower altitudes of Himachal Pradesh were Chir pine, Eucalyptus (safeda) and Khair (out of which Katha is made). In fact, rich and natural scrub forests were destroyed over large areas during these decades in the name of ‘forestry improvement’ and replaced with these commercial species.
The plantation of Eucalyptus was recognised by the government as unsuitable for Himachal in 1984, and its plantaion on government land was ordered to be stopped through a government notification. However, we have evidence of this species still being planted in areas within the state in recent years.
Chir pine is by far the biggest of the forest department’s favourites; apart from the technical rhetoric that it’s a pioneering species (a species that is amongst the first ones to come up in a destabilised area), it is hardy, fire resistant and the acidic leaf litter discourages the growth of many other species underneath. It is ideal for the achievement of afforestation targets (without much needed to be done in community mobilisation and consensus building) by the department employees; no animals eat it, unlike other fodder trees that fulfil the daily needs of the people. Chir pines were being planted in a big way till the time people started isolated protests in villages against new plantations.
Devdar definitely has lesser detrimental impacts on the ecology than pines, probably due to the lesser volume of the leaf litter. But they belong to different climatic zones: devdar‘s prime habitat is in a higher altitude than the pines.
The author is member and Secretary of Palampur based NGO – Lok Vigyan Kendra .