TODAY -

Crying foul of officials of Forest Department

SK Singh *



This last Jan 15 Sunday (2023), will be yet another memorable day for reasons we had heard of repeatedly since the days of the UPA government in the state in the tens. To hold the tract in correct perspective, we may start with what happened during this week and in particular on the 15th January.

The CM Shri N Biren was in the midst of a function organized by the Planning department launching of ‘Emerging Manipur-2023at City Convention Centre. The day was also celebrating Manipur being graded as the ‘Most Improved Small state Overall’, as per a report of the India Today.

Exceedingly exalted at Manipur securing this splendid achievement thrice in consecutive years, The CM spoke his mind on intensifying all-out efforts in the context of the War On Drugs now under intense execution.

Rightly so, he showed his determination to wipe out whatever plantations under ‘poppy’ now in practice in pockets spread over the hill ranges. A visibly concerned CM dwelt on the massive deforestation now in practice in preparation for poppy plantation. Striking the core effect this denudation of hill ranges has caused he referred to a reality, according to him, “There will be no more water left after 10 days”.

Singda Dam , Imphal river, Chingkhei Ching Water reservoir would be all left dry after 10 days. Driving his concerned he wondered why the Forest Department was not aware of these deforestations, why no formal report is submitted to the government in time.

He expressed his desire to pull up errant forest officials for failing to report these massive denudations along the hill ranges even under the Reserved Forest areas. Hopefully, it may bear fruits in the days to come.

This thought, this intervention of the CM is laudable in that at least there has been someone taking serious note of the series of irresponsibility across the development departments where the incumbents take almost everything at ease. The context in this instant case however, was not the deforestation as such.

It was more of an appreciation of the act of massive cutting down of hill ranges for plantation of poppy’ and thereby uprooting the trees across the hill ranges spanning several hill districts. The CM caught hold of the imperative denudation, the resultant overflow of rain water the ground unable to hold any water for feeding the lakes, the river sources even the dams like the Singda which depend on water from the surrounding ranges.

The err of the CM for fixing responsibility of concerned officials of the FOREST department for inability to report the ground reality in time is a wakeup call for all connected line departments.

The immediate apprehension could be the concern expressed by the CM regarding scarcity of drinking water and that it might last at the most, for 10 days then. The worry is legitimate in that Imphal is largely fed by water from the Singda Dam in its entirety. This worry, worry for shortage of drinking water, is not a preserve of these days only.

Come New Year, the following few months, the Febs, the Marches are bound to be ‘Months of Concern’, as far as drinking water in Imphal areas is concerned. Its true for the O.Ibobi days, the 15 years of Congress reign in the state or the 7 and half years of the N. Biren government now.

The scenario is near similar to a kind of ‘periodic cycle’ when, the cry echoes, ‘Come March, Face Water Scarcity’ and political bosses near similarly shed crocodile tear crying foul of the Irrigation Department or the Water Supply Department and now the Forest Department.

Recalling the near-sure situation of shortage of water in Imphal areas during these early spring months, tracing the periodic worries expressed by varieties of authorities belonging to again varying political affiliations, in this regard would be of some interest.

During May last year, the then Minister of Forest, Environment and Climate Change hit upon a grand idea of saving Singda and undertake massive plantation in select catchment areas. The Minister elaborating emphasized on the urgency for saving catchment areas to save ecology from further deterioration. He even went a step ahead; that they have completed identification of these catchment areas across the state.

And that a massive plantation plan, planting one crore or to highlight further, planting one hundred lakh saplings, across the catchment areas was announced. Before going in depth how one hundred lakh saplings, understandably suitable for the differing terrains in the several catchment areas, would be executed, we may recall if there had been any such a forestation program in connection with ensuring conservation of water in Singda Dam.

Yes, there had been such endeavor for sure, in the past. Nearly two decades ago, in 2013 during the reign of the UPA government under Sri O Ibobi Singh, similar concern about acute shrinking of water level in Singda Dam and consequent threat to starve the capital city, Imphal of drinking water was expressed. They went ahead again with the popular slogan ‘massive plantation’, then too.

In a commentary this writer penned then about the situation. I quote: “An apparently serious CM rushed to the dam site on April 18, 2013. With the usual hectic brief that accompanies the presence of a VVIP, the CM concluded that there should be an intensive program for massive plantation in and around the catchment area of the ill-fated dam.The IFCD was ordered for arrangement for plantation of 5 lakh trees. The dictum was not all. He ordered that the plantation should be completed in 30 days.”

That time in 2013, the dictum was for 5 lakh saplings to be planted in 30 days. Subsequently, in 2022 one hundred lakh saplings planned to be planted of course across the entire state. Looking at the developments over the several years in the areas of afforestation, we can surmise that plantation is a serious business, not just plant some saplings and forget.

The saplings have to be selective, not just any plant available around. This would imply that these lakh and crores have to be chosen ones, suitable for the specific site, the villages and the catchment areas, not just any available. Different terrains, different hill ranges would need differing breeds, varying saplings according to the plot to be planted.

So planting 5 lakh trees in a month or so with any plants we can lay hands on would be disastrous, there cannot be any doubt. Don’t we need to identify the varieties in advance, raise the saplings in time would be a prerequisite. This appears not to be attended to. Then again, for a healthy growth, the sites need be prepared meticulously. Post plantation care is the most critical input we accord least care.

The usual way is, plant and forget. They need to be nurtured till they reach a certain level of growth when they can be left to themselves. The association with the villagers, those dwelling around need be put into confidence so they could take care of the trees till reaching a certain level. Why certain level, they should be allowed to possess these trees when matured.

In the Sunderbans, Plantation is an issue of life and death, to save them from the constant onslaught of saline water. There plantation is a serious business, very serious indeed. It is said that there the entire process of nurturing the normal saplings, take around 2 to 3 months on the average. And there saplings survive. There plantation is tantamount to survival. Where do we stand? Ours is more of a fun.


* SK Singh wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at kunjabiharis(AT)rediffmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on 25 January 2023.



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