Articles, Blog

In harmony with nature: Kulbushan Upmanyu at TEDxDharamsala

Good morning everybody, Im going to relate
the experiences of an environment activist working in a remote, small area which is Sihunta
sub tehsil, of the most backward district, Chamba. You know, forests are the backbone
of mountain ecology. And the Himalayas is the most fragile mountain chain of the world.
But, very vital for determining the climatic function for providing so many environmental
services, ecological services to Indian sub continent. Unfortunately the department managing
our forests in mountain areas and India as a whole as well , with a colonial baggage
on its head, was even after Independence managing these forests, for shear commercial ends.
And the basic strategy for that was improvement forestry in the name of scientific forestry.
It was more of a commercial and improvement forestry, not at all scientific forestry because
for this improvement forestry, most of the natural forests areas were being clear felled,
full of bio-diversity, multiple species, which were giving, rich livelihoods to the local
people, and conserving water and soils of the Himalayas, they were being converted into,
Pine and Eucalyptus monoculture in lower hills and into Deodar in higher hills. This was
on one hand damaging the livelihood of the local community and on the second hand, it
was damaging the capacity of this great mountain to give ecological services. I, as a young
man of 23, could understand that there is something wrong is going on. And as a social worker,
with my few friends, wanted to work on this and fortunately one day, at Pathankot, in
Prasthan Ashram, an ashram established by Vinoba ji, while he was on his travel for
Bhu-daan movement, I met Shri Sunderlal Bhuguna. He was on his way to Srinagar, to start world
famous Kashmir – Kohima CHIPKO foot march. I found the answer for my questions. And I
put myself to join him and I did that. And right from Langera village at J&K and Himachal
border to Kundni in Jaunsarbadar, the then UP border for another two and half months,
I remained with him in that foot march. That first hand interaction with the people convinced
me all the more that whatever I was feeling that was right. All the people around Himalayas
are suffering from the same problem, threat to livelihood and threat of ecological disaster.
I decided to start my work from Sihunta area. We raised nursery and replaced the forest
plantation of Pine and Eucalyptus monoculture, which was being taken up by clear felling
the natural forests and girdling the local species. These are the two images, where the
tree had been debarked, to artificially dry trees, to make space for a commercial specie
plant. So we raised our nurseries, of local species, of fruit, fodder, fuel, fiber, fertiliser
and maximum species. And replaced the forest plantations every season for two years. But
that needed big effort because plantations were quite spread in farflung areas. So one
of my very wise but illiterate friend gave a beautiful advise. Instead of replacing the
plantations in these areas, why cant we replace the nursery. So we collected seeds of the
required species, of multiple use , food, fodder, fiber species and replaced the nurseries
in whole of that sub tehsil, Sihunta, in 18
panchayats. The forest department hit back.
Cases were registered against 43 of us. But people were involved in thousands, so they
called the police station at Sihunta, but the police couldn’t arrest us. But ultimately,
we were called to negotiate, by the government, to Shimla, by then Chief Minister. I could
meet him on 22nd March 1984 in the assembly office. Mr Ranjit Singh, MP in Chamba region
was also sitting there. I could prove my point by showing these pictures, This is how their
forest department is destroying the natural forests and livelihoods are at threat. And
why this clear felling, of the local species? this is a clear felled forest of Bauhinia
vahlii, a creeper. The department declares it a parasite, but this is so useful for farmers
that its used in 15 different activities, including, making leaf plates, which is called
PATTAL in this area. The Chief Minister was shocked to see all this. Really! Forest department
is doing this type of forestry! The Chief Conservator, Forests, present there couldnt
explain, he could only say that this is a standard practice of improvement forestry.
How funny it was! This was the types improvement being done to our forests. Our demands were
accepted. The orders were issued to stop this improvement forestry. And plantation of eucalyptus
was stopped in government forests, because it is highly water depleting species. The
pine plantation in and around villages was stopped. This is the copy of the letter and
second one is the order. The pine plantation was banned in and around villages and pasture
area because pine destructs all grasses and undergrowth. It is a highly aggressive specie
destroying all biodiversity. So that was also banned. Oak and Rododendron were declared
protected species. And surplus dry fuel which was being exported, (converted into charcoal
,and then exported), it was also banned from the area where fuel scarcity is there. This
was one achievement which enthused us to work more vigoursly. We were quite aware that the
mainstream development model is destroying the ecology of Himalayas. The recent catastrophe
of Uttrakhand,has proved beyond doubt, had there been no this type of aggressive development,
which converted 30,000 hectares of land in last 12 years, in Uttrakhand for these development
projects. Vishnuprayag power project when collapsed increased the havoc manifold. This
is the time, when we should be humble enough to respond and try to levy from these bad
experiences. But the irony of the age is, that instead of looking for alternative development
model , we are going to replay the same follies. Its not only the hydro power, the cement industry,
the unmindful road construction, unscientific road construction, throwing the debries down
the slow, destroying all the forests mercilessly. We must prepare to find technological alternatives,
and activity based alternative as well, where we cannot construct a road without destroying
long stretches of forests. We can build ropeways. Where road is possible to be constructed,
we can construct with a better technology, that is cut and fill technology is quite acceptable
that way. And when we are going for generating electricity, because we need electricity,
we need industrial growth, but there is a limit to the exploitation of Himalayas. And
we should determine the limit. Recognise that limit and should never cross that limit. We
should decide, that one river should not be exploited more than 60%, say for example,
but our rivers are going to die 100%. Ravi a small river, flowing in district Chamba,
it runs 76km in Himachal Pradesh. But when all the proposed and all on going projects
are completed, only 4km of this river will be flowing independently. Rest of it, either
will be in impoundment or in tunnels. So do we expect our rivers to die like that? Can
Himalaya bear this type of manmade disaster to our riverine systems? And this is just
one example. We are behaving everywhere like that. The cement plants we are running after
them. Everywhere government is declaring that 11 of them are in pipeline. And now one is
coming up at Andora, may be some grinding unit from the power project being constructed
at Chamba. This type of destruction and destructing development we are going to bring, but the
same time we want that large scale of employment could be build in tourism. Tourism and cement
industry, cannot go together. No one will come to Himachal to see denuded, destructed
landscapes. So we while going for this development, development is not a thing which just has
started after industrial revolution, its a regular process. The idea of India, the message
of India, was always respecting nature along with development. Gandhi ji said, that we
must learn to differentiate between need and greed. Nature has enough to fulfil the needs
of everybody but has nothing for the greed of anybody. That can be a guiding principle.
So we must aspire and plan and struggle, especially everybody of us, but especially the young
amongst us, for a type of development, which is ecologically sustainable. Because we are
not the last generation on this earth. We should strive for development which is ecologically
sustainable and which is full of equity, intra-generation, and inter-generation equity. We must spare enough for
our generations to come. The resources, of the nature, should be conserved for them,
so that the life process, the life cycle, goes for ever , goes on forever, forever,
forever, unhindered. That would be the real development. WE can redefine development not
as affluent which is done today, affluence is for not development. Happiness, peace and
prosperity, with contentment can be best development. Contentment should be the resultant of any
development. Lets us rethink. Thank you.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *