Posted by: Bittu Sahgal on
Jun 07, 2010
The forests of India are loved by a divided family -- wildlifers and social activists. Almost no other group in India is genuinely interested in keeping natural forests 'natural', except perhaps a small section of wildlife tourism people.
This division in the house has been manna from heaven for the enemy -- mining companies, dam builders, road builders and of course the sundry carpetbaggers that follow in their wake. Read Up in Smoke which suggests a way towards a solution, just one solution among many.
The problem of course is that even obvious solutions do not always work. Often this is because human rights activists' -- and wildlifers' -- whose egos are just as large as those of the industrialists and politicians, cannot work together.
Tragically, as the bulls battle, the calf (forests of India) have begun to vanish. The process is depressingly simple: Politicians and big business work in tandem with the former offering forest land to "the poor" to strip of trees and then farm. When the land is deforested, based on the argument that "there are no forests here," developers move in to mine, dam or otherwise financially exploit what used to be pristine areas.
The rich thus get richer. The poor poorer. And the rot continues.
Between 20 and 30 million people in India can be given gainful employment to restore ecosystems. This should be our national objective as there is no earthly way in which Indians -- rich or poor -- can hope to survive. But this is something beyond the ken of urban tribal and human rights activists who believe that millions should be encouraged to grow crops in the heart of forests where neither the soil, nor the wild creatures living therein will ever allow crops to flourish. By pushing people to farm such marginal lands, the activists are directly responsible for both destroying the lands and the people.
If you speak to such activists you will hear them all sing praises of the mahua tree, for instance, yet they say nothing about protecting the tree's pollinators -- moths and bats. The tribal people themselves are fully aware that worshiping the forest, the tiger, birds, snakes, elephants, or an ancient tree is a survival imperative. The irony is that misguided urban activists tell tribals that these are little more than commodities (that should be harvested and sold by the people) while politicians say the forest is a commodity (that should be harvested by big business -- which of course must pay the politician for the privilege).