Haven’t we learnt anything at all?
Even after the enormous tragedy that had struck Uttarakhand few months back, it seems the state government has learnt no lessons. It is still continuing with its ill-advised policy of deforesting forest lands and neglecting the forest reserves, despite the unimaginable catastrophe causing that had brought the state to a grinding halt, submerging religious shrines and killing over 5,000 in the process. As Millennium Post reported recently, around 4 lakh hectares of civil soyam land in Uttarakhand, that constitutes about nine per cent of the total geographical area of the state, now face the threat of massive deforestation since they are being ‘cleared’ for non-forest uses. Several questions arise in this context. First of all, why is the civil soyam land part of the ‘unsurveyed waste land’, spreading across Garhwal, Almora and Haldwani? Given the serious pressure on land use and need to have more land for agriculture, industry and building infrastructure as well as preserve our precious forest areas, allowing vast swathes of land area to remain unsurveyed is an exercise in self-destruction.
Secondly, we need to ask what were the reasons for the state government to take away the tag of being ‘Protected Forests’ from the region in 2011, especially since that was something the area had been enjoying as an unbroken ecological privilege for over a century, since 1893. In fact, the lifting of the protected forests tag coincides exactly with the increased number of encroachments into these forest lands, which are now being leased out for all kinds of non-forest activities, including building hotels and tourist resorts, much to the detriment of the ecologically sensitive region. Most of the times, these leasing-outs are unsanctioned by requisite state authorities, since in the absence of ownership of forest department, the district administrations have been indulging in gross misrule and neglect of provisions.