Ecological task force should be raised in Manipur
- Part 1 -

Thangjam Ranjit *


Indian Army since independence has been the protector of the nation in all walks of life and has taken the commitment for environment conservation and has been recognized many times. The men in olive green have been making continuously nature their companion. Smart green cantonments and military stations flourished with local flora and fauna are the few examples of preserving “mother earth” by the brave and ever dutiful Indian Army since long time.

The ecological works carried out by the ETFs deserve to be applauded as the ex-servicemen who served the nation with “guns” and “tanks’ have now once again served the country with “spades” and “trowel”(karni) that too in challenging and inhospitable areas. Re-vegetation of these difficult terrains has led to an increase in humidity, reduction in day temperature, checking of sand dune movement in desert areas, wind velocity and improving the habitat of local flora and fauna, etc. to a great extent in different parts of the country.

What is ETF ?

The Ecological Task Force is a Territorial Army (TA), a unit of Indian Army to involve in the restoration of ecological balance and to execute specific ecological related projects with military- like work culture and commitment by enrolling ex-servicemen. ETF Battalions (TA) use technical expertise of the respective State Forest Department (SFD) for afforestation related activities and promote environment in large scale.

Establishment of ETF

The first ETF was established on December 1, 1982, as an unique experiment under 127 Infantry Battalion (Territorial Army) of Garhwal Rifles, in the aim of resettlement of ex-servicemen and regeneration of ecology. The idea of establishing ETF in India owed to Dr. Norman Borlaugh,Director of International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre in Mexico, who suggested our late Prime Minister, Smt. Indira Gandhi to involve the Indian Army to restore the ecological balance on war footing. As the regular army could not be utilized for the purpose, it was decided to that a Territorial Army Unit be raised for the purpose of enrolling the ex-servicemen from the region.

Organizational Set-up

Ecological Task Force is officered by a mix of Regular and Territorial Army officers and based on manpower comprising of young ex-servicemen. An ETF has the headquarters-cum-administrative element and a company is under an officer, three Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) and about 99 men. The strength of an ETF, consisting of Headquarters, and one company may be 3 officers, 5 JCOs and 139 other ranks, making a total of 147 of all ranks. Local assistance from the Forest Department is taken in imparting training .One plus point of our soldiers is that they have a very good working knowledge of agriculture, forestry and tasks close to “mother nature”.

Success Stories of ETFs

a) (Eco restoration of degraded Bhatti Mines in the southern ridge of Delhi, Bhatti Wild-life Sanctuary).

With effect from October, 2000, through 132 Infantry Battalion (TA), Eco Rajput (Eco-Task Force), had successfully protected the forest land from encroachment and illegal mining in the area. Another area called the Gaon Sabha lands, in Dera Mandi were also handed over to ETF by the Delhi Government for raising plantations. The year wise details of plantations raised by ETF w.e.f. 2001 onwards are :
Sl. No. Year Area (in acres)
No. of plants planted /raised
1. 2001-02----300, 58,800
2. 2002-0---600, 92,600
3. 2003-04---400, 150,000
4. 2004-05---400, 128,000
5. 2005-06---400, 130,000
6. 2006-07---400, 140,000
7. 2007-08---400, 170,000
8. 2008-09---427, 141,703
9. 2009-10---429, 104,632
Source : Eco Rajput, ETF

b) Greening High Altitude Desert
(Initiative to check economic migration along border areas)

A unique initiative and vision of Indian Army has achieved plantation of high quality walnut and chilgoza saplings in Malari region of Uttarkhand to prevent migration of villagers. Malari village is strategically located in Niti valley on an axis leading to the China border and is remotely located and cut off from Jashimath due to heavy snowfalls between December-April every year.The locals migrate to lower regions during this period.

There are no avenues of employment and even the cultivable land is inadequate for a sustainable livelihood. This project has been initiated on the directions of General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defense Staff, who conceived the idea and is the driving force behind the initiative. The uniqueness of this initiative is thatit involves all resident families in planting saplings of walnut and chilgoza which will belong to them and they would be sole beneficiaries of the fruits borne by them.

c) Rain in High Altitude Desert, Leh (Ladakh)

The Forest and Environment Ministry of Jammu and Kashmir, with the help of Army (before ETF was established) planted hundreds of saplings, which were 4-5 ft. tall around the Military Hospital areas and outside few surrounding areas.

After one or two years, the trees with very broad leaves were about 10 to 12 ft. tall. It was sometimes in the year 1973-74; all the people in and around hospital areas were jubilant, running round and shouting, because it was first rainfall in the history of Leh, Ladakh that water/rain came directly from the sky. It was a pleasant surprise for all of the people in the area to see the rainfall. What they saw in life was only ice and snow and melted water in the form of streams and rivers.

d) Rain in Thar Desert and surrounding areas

Indian Army have been doing and have to do their desert warfare training in desert and semi-desert areas of Rajasthan (Ganganagar, Phalodi, Thar Desert and other areas). For plantation of acacia in the above areas, hundreds of water trailers were carrying water to distribute to the thousands of big and small water tanks spreading all along the both sides of the black toped tarmac road on the desert, specially constructed for the purpose of watering thousands and thousands of acacia. When the acacia was about 10 – 12 ft. tall with other desert plants, rainfall in Thar Desert and surroundings started in the early 1980s to the surprise of many .

e) Successes of ETFs in our neighbor, Assam

1) The Eastern Planters 134 Infantry Battalion TA (ETF)

The Eastern Planters 134 Infantry Battalion TA (ETF) Assam has been doing yeoman service by restoration of depleted forests in Sonitpur District of Assam. It has planted 60 lakhs of saplings in 10 years till 2018 since its raising in 2008 covering an area of approximately 4,488 hectares. Every year the Battalion (ETF) plant more than 7 lakhs trees every year.

The achievement of the 134 Ecological Task Force/Eastern Planters are :
(a) Deforestation in surrounding areas has been completely stopped.
(b) Smuggling timber on Balukpong – Tezpur Road has been checked.
(c) Sense of security among local population restored.
(d) Poaching in the area has been reduced.
(e) Nursing and sowing of seeds are always in progress.

2) 135 Ecological Task Force ETF, Green Rhinos

Some commendable services which have been rendering by ETF (Green Rhinos) are:
(a) The plantation drive of “My Earth My Duty” was organized by the Green Rhinos in schools and colleges in order to spread awareness of ecology and environment.
(b) 135 ETF joint venture with Forest Department to campaign the wildlife week.
(c) The ETF stopped deforestation and poaching. They have planted more than 60 lakhs in 10years.
(d) It is worth mentioning rather pride and honour of 135 ETF that a team of 100 Green Rhinos made “Guinness World Records” by planting 40,885 saplings in one hour in the year 2012.

For both the Eastern Planters and Green Rhinos it is the successful story of the excellent works they accomplished under the initiative and patronage of the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Govt. of India.

To be continued...

* Thangjam Ranjit wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on November 07 2021.

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