Finally some semblance of awareness, a beginning at the least

SK Singh *

Manipur creates record on World Environment Day: Over 50,000 saplings planted in 950 schools and 80 colleges in 1 hour on June 06 2019
Over 50,000 saplings planted in 950 schools and 80 colleges in 1 hour on June 06 2019 :: Pix - IT News

This year our state can be rated as one among the forerunners in celebrating the 'World Environment Day', at least in the area of 'slogan', the uproar that precedes the substantiality. One can feel the kind of noise created, the variety of functions held in the celebration across the state and more importantly the 'catch-words', that would attract the common man. This is indeed laudable; surely a positive sign and an amused 'mother Earth' must be chuckling somewhere though quietly with eyebrows raised at the sudden spurt of patriotism.

Recall how the authorities that may be, coined catchy terms like, '50,000 Saplings Planted in One Hour', '10 Lakh Saplings to be Planted, Nurtured This Year', 'Green and Clean Mission on the Cards', 'All Set to Observe WED', to recall a few. Surely these are adequately tempting to look forward. And these propagandas are for sure, positive approach we should take notice of.

Why mother Earth alone, some of us who had been following the demeanors of the state government and civil society organizations in organizing WED or for that matter, WWD or Van Mahotsava and the likes intimately connected with maintaining the ecological balance of our land over the years, do giggle too at this unusual surge of activities.

Recall how schools in 17 zones, 950 of them and 80 colleges were reportedly assigned with the herculean task of planting 50,000 saplings that too in a span of just one hour, a meager 60 minutes, more amusingly at the exact time of 9 am till 10 am.

The news of the Education Minister spearheading the 'Mission 50,000', in collaboration with the Forest and Environment Department and AMWJU of planting all 50,000 at the same time of one hour between 9 to 10 on June 5, is indeed nothing short of a 'breaking news'. That works out to, planting 50 saplings in 60 minutes per institution on the average across the state during the specified time frame.

Equally worrisome concerns are about the possible choice of varieties of trees, suitability or otherwise in a particular area, the quality of plantation like the pre-plantation preparation like digging of the pots associated with steps like weathering of the pots for around a week or so, the inherent need for protection till catching strength and much later, of course, the inbuilt mechanism of maintaining the saplings once the initial tempo of planting trees on such an important international day die down over the days.

If past experiences are any guide, most of the saplings planted in a hurry, around 50 saplings (in 60 minutes) in each of the 1030 institutions on June 5, would face near similar fate of trees planted in the past several decades.

To throw more light on the issues raised above, we may have the indulgence of recalling one mega plantation initiative the then CM of a state in 2013 undertook for plantation in and around the Singda Multipurpose project, in particular the catchment area of the dam. April 18 of 2013 turned out to be a red lettered day for Singda dam.

This dam meant to meet major portion of water for the Imphal city had been showing signs of depletion more regularly from 2006 when an expert team of GSI recommended massive plantation along the periphery of the catchment area, ensure regular flow of water without accumulation, among others.

7 years down the line, in April 2013, the then CM choose it wise to dash to the dam site, inspect for himself, hear the concerned officers and after satisfying with the impending problems ordered an immediate plan of plantation, 'Mission 5 Lakh Plantation'. The command was loud and clear, "Complete plantation of 5 lakh saplings in 30 days, starting 18 April".

The core issue could be, was the order for plantation of 5, 00,000 saplings in a span of 30 days, well conceived keeping in view the ground realities or just an executive order born out of spurt of anxiety to do things.

Mind you, this massive plantation was largely in and around the catchment area, in particular the Thumkhong Lok in the Ireng hill range where massive land depression had formed resulting to water accumulation rather than flow to the dam. The report talked about the catchment areas extensively degraded due to timber logging, shifting cultivation and resultant denudation of the vegetable cover.

Under such an utterly emergent situation a head of the state having perceived the gravity of the scenario is perfectly in order to have ordered massive afforestation in the hill ranges and that too almost immediate and fixing a time frame of 30 days.

What is not comprehensible is how we can plant a couple of lakh of trees in a matter of a month without any foreseeable planning? Plantation contrary to common understanding is a serious business; it needs to be planned months ahead. The suitability of trees to be planted in the particular terrain, the hilly slopes, the economic value of trees among several to meet the taste of the villagers to whom the trees ultimately belong, the modality of post-plantation care etc are areas of great concern for the plantation to be a success.

More importantly, the pits need to be properly prepared before actual plantation; an area we mostly ignore or pay the least consideration. Maintenance mechanism of such a massive plantation assumes considerable importance. Government agencies, be they schools or colleges, the line departments like the Forest and Environment Department, the PWD, the MAHUD, the Municipality Corporations/Councils, you name any, are not to be relied upon; they just don't fit into the system.

For one, they lack the kind of belongingness and for the other, they are poorly controlled. Have a look at the plantations at the median of Pishum market point to Elang Leikai road boldly proclaimed as being maintained by the Forest Department. The trees already one year old just survive and these include one with the name of the health minister tagged clearly standing in front of his very residence.

The fact therefore is that all these maintenance works are invariably assigned with private entities, be they clubs, corporate bodies, private institutions or villages as a whole. Recall how Delhi airport gardens and plantations are luxuriously green, so also the Bangalore airport complex. Deli's is maintained by JCT (Jagjit Cotton Textiles).

Who should then be assigned with this onerous task that should ensure life to these tender saplings exposed to all forms of obstructions and destructions? For the Singda Dam plantation mission, the hill villages all along the catchment areas and leikai around should be the owner of these trees and they be motivated to adopt, nurture and for this to be successful, the villagers should be made the masters of what they do.

In addition, some remuneration however modest need be provided till such time the trees survive. Under such a consultative process, the choice of tree verities suitable to the village should be left to the people and these be worked out much in advance. These varities should be raised by the Forest department may be 5/6 months before the plantation season.

In the context of these plantation missions, like the 5- lakh-trees in Singda or more recently 50,000 in educational institutions or the 10,00,000 plantation trumpeted by the forest minister, one wonders if the most suitable verities were ever given thought and raised accordingly or could it be just any one would suffice so long they are some form of a sapling.

In all probability, no such planning could have been done. More tragically, the plantation sites could have never been prepared in advance. Under such circumstances, the survival rate would thus be the worst casualty and it is no wonder that hardly 20 % of the 5 lakh Singda plantation in 2013 survived.

We pray, having no other approach, to the Almighty, that at least 30% of the saplings survive of the 50,000 saplings reportedly planted on WED in educational institutions. For the other more ambitious plan of 10 –lakh-plantations cum nurturing-project, we have yet not made up what should we pray for? It's too enthusiastic a scale and given the large holes in plantation missions althrough in the state, we are more confounded than ever before. Let God bless our trees for now at least.

* SK Singh wrote this article for
The writer can be reached at kunjabiharis(AT)rediffmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on June 12, 2019.

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