Skip to main content

Whither 1970s, 1980s chipko gains? Axing of 23 lakh trees for river linking project

By Bharat Dogra* 

Each tree is considered to be a conserver of water, so it is extremely strange that a leading project in India, widely publicized to reduce water shortages of a drought-prone area, is supposed to start with the axing of 2.3 million trees, besides badly disrupting wild life including tigers in a protected zone and displacing thousands of villages.
The claims of this project have been trashed repeatedly by eminent experts as well as a committee appointed by the apex court of India. However ignoring all this, the Cabinet approved the Ken-Betwa River-Link Project (KBRLP) on December 8, 2021.
The government has committed to spend about Rs 5,500 crore average per year over the next 8 years ( Rs. 44,600 crore, or 6 billion dollars in all) over the next eight years on this multipurpose power and water project whose main stated aim is to solve the water scarcity of Bundelkhand, a region of 13 districts in central India.
Essentially this project involves the transfer of water from a river basin considered surplus (Ken) to the other considered deficit (Betwa). But as critics have pointed out, this basic premise of the project is non-rational as the surplus water availability in Ken river has never been established properly. In fact this river and its tributaries have been ravaged and depleted in recent years by reckless sand mining carried out by politically well-connected mafias.
Besides, as both river-basins are adjacent to each other, together experiencing similar weather conditions of heavy or deficient rain, there is little justification for transfer of water based on notions of deficit-surplus.
Studies of water scarcity in Bundelkhand have mentioned deforestation as a leading cause ; hence seeking to solve water scarcity with a project involving axing of over 2 million trees appears foolhardy. These studies, highlighting the rich traditional wisdom seen in many water conservation works of Bundelkhand, have called for their better care and promotion of water conservation based on similar understanding of local conditions.
Earlier, 30 experts, some of whom have held official positions, joined hands to prepare a document which states that “the project has been plagued by sloppy, intentionally misleading and inadequate impact assessments, procedural violations and misinformation at every step of the way.”
Pandurang Hegde is an environment activist who worked very hard — and with much success — to save many trees from commercial felling in the ecologically crucial Western Ghats area of Karnataka state. He says bitterly, “ Before we could celebrate our success, even more trees started being cut in the name of big projects whose desirability and viability was not well established at all.”
In the Himalayan region a very large number of trees are threatened even in river catchment areas by projects whose desirability and necessity has been questioned repeatedly. If we add together all such cases where a large number of trees are threatened, many in ecologically crucial areas, the numbers easily add up to the possibility of saving around four million trees in India alone.
Vimla Bahuguna, a motherly activist who devoted her life to protecting forests in the Himalayan region, told me recently, “ The gains of the battles we won in the 1970s and 1980s are being lost now.”
When her husband Sunderlal Baguguna, the venerable famous leader of Chipko (hug the trees) movement died recently, the government paid rich tributes to him. Just a few months earlier I had gone to their home to present them my new book on their lifelong struggles to save trees and rivers in the Himalayas. As we discussed the current situation, he almost broke down when speaking of the slaughter of trees in several places.
The government honours his memory, but will it honour his vision of making the best possible efforts to save all threatened trees and forests?
At world level of course the potential for saving threatened trees is many times more. Hence there is increasing need for setting up international mechanisms for making best possible efforts to save trees threatened by dubious projects, or more broadly by all avoidable reasons.
An agency can be set up in the United Nations and it should be mandatory for any project in any country that involves axing of trees beyond a limit to inform this agency and to at least obtain its opinion on possibilities of avoiding this loss. 
An effort should be made to get the best advice on the possibilities of saving trees by all countries. This will also help to establish reliable records for all cases worldwide involving heavy loss of trees. This need has increased all the more in times of climate change.
---
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now; his books include “Planet in Peril” and “Protecting Earth For Children”

Comments

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Sharp 61-85% fall in Tech startup funding in India's top 'business-friendly' States

By Rajiv Shah Funding in Tech startups in top business-friendly Indian states has witnessed a major fall, a data intelligence platform for private market research has said in a series of reports it has released this month. Analysing Tech startup data of Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Tracxn Technologies Ltd , the Bengaluru-based research firm, finds that except for Kerala, funding witnessed a fall of anywhere between 61% and 85%.

Students, lawyers, professors detained in Delhi for demonstrating in support of farmers

By Our Representative  About 25 protestors, belonging to the civil rights network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of over 40 organisations, were detained at Jantar Mantar for holding a demonstration in support of the farmers' stir on Friday. Those detained included students, lawyers and professors, including Prof Nandita Narain and Prof N Sachin. 

Maize, bajra, jute, banana cultivation banned off West Bengal border: Plea to NHRC

Counterview Desk  West Bengal-based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manch, and is national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, second within few days, has bought to light one more case of trespassing and destruction of a fertile banana plantation by BSF personnel along the Indo-Bangladesh border, stating, despite a written complaint to the police has taken "no initiative".

Solar energy funding dips 9% in 2023; 2024 'kicks off' with US$1 billion investment

By Lakshmitha Raj*  Solar energy tech companies have already secured slightly over US$1 billion in funding in 2024 (till Feb 7, 2024) after total funding into Solar Energy companies in India fell 9% to US$1.55B in 2023 from US$1.7B in 2022. A total of 39 $100M+ rounds have been closed till date, with Delhi leading the city-wise funding, followed by Gurugram and Mumbai.

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das  Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.