His first stop is a hill station.
The mighty Himalayas. The beauty of its distant snow capped ranges is awesome. But as Panditji looks around where he stands, the magic disappears. Hey, what happened to the hills? They look brown and barren. And the place is teeming with tourists. Panditji has just been told that there is not enough water to go around. So it is being rationed. He wants to know more. He talks to Mr. Verghese who runs a chai shop here. Let’s see what he has to say.
In the mountains you will see lots of barren hills. Scarred and eroded! They look like giant anthills. These were once covered by dense forests.
The trees have gone now. We cut trees to make roads. We cut them for wooden furniture. And we don’t just stop at cutting trees; we also cut out the land beneath them!
Why are mountains Stripped?
Wood means money
The government earns enormous revenues from timber. We have a large number of forest based industries, which are given licenses for ‘commercial felling’ by the state authorities. The private contractors are supposed to follow scientifc principles of cutting so that the trees are not chopped indiscriminately. But in reality, huge sections of forests are lost to illegal felling.
Roads connect but also destroy
Building an one kilometre-long road in the Himalayas requires excavation of as much as 30,000 to 40,000 cubic metres of soil. Another 550 cubic metres of earth is removed each year to maintain it! Result? Soil structure is destabilised, turning mountain terrains into landslide disaster zones.
Getting stoned out
Stone quarrying is another menace that haunts the hills. Trees are cut to clear the land. Then the hill face is blasted and bored to extract stone. Quarrying has left wide gashes in the hills near Dharamshala, reducing them to a pile of rubble. The magnesite mines in Almora district, throw up white dust that covers the surrounding fields and makes them barren.
The Chipko movement
The roads are dangerous also because they lead the commercial fellers right into the forests. And into the lives of the people who live around them and are dependant on the resources for their rozi roti.
Let me tell you the story of the villagers living in the hills of Uttaranchal in mid-1970’s, then a part of Uttar Pradesh. Dashauli Gram Swarajya Mandal, a group of locals, led by their leader Chandi Prasad Bhatt had gone to the state forest department asking for permission to cut a few ash trees to make farm tools, like ploughs. They were turned down.
But then, the government decided to allot the trees to a company that manufactured tennis racquets, called Syminds Co! Can you imagine the chagrin of the locals? They wanted control over their forest wealth, and resented the way it was being given away. So on March 27. 1973, Bhatt and his followers vowed to ‘hug the trees (chipko!) to stop others from touching them! They were actually protecting themselves. “Our future is tied with the trees, ”said Bhatt. Many such Chipko are still being fought in India. Find them...
Ravaged by Tourists
Eating into the resources
Sadly, the worst enemies are the rampaging visitors (people like us) who invade the hill every summer. Most of these small towns are not geared up to cater to so many people at the sametime--so water shortage and power cuts become a permanent feature every peak season.
And of course the gigantic pile of garbage produced by them ‘messes up’ the lives of the locals. Streams and lakes get choked, and the civic authorities reel under pressure..
Dumped! Sky High
Mount Everest-the highest peak in the world, has more recently, earned the dubious distinction of being the world's highest junkyard! About 400 people attempt to reach the summit each year and they leave behind a lot of junk. 50 tonnes of garbage has accumulated along the southeast ridge.
And another 10 tonnes, around Camp IV - the last camp on the way to the summit. The refuse includes everything from 1,000 discarded oxygen tanks to the remains of a helicopter, which crashed there in 1973. Harsh weather makes cleaning up a monumental task. It takes an hour to bring out one used tent from under the snow.
What a Stink!!
Indians consider rivers to be holy. One dip is supposed to wash away the sins of an entire lifetime. But we treat them in the unholiest manner—as garbage dumps. 22,900 million litres of wastewater is generated in India per day. Of this only 26 per cent is subjected to any kind of treatment. So almost 17,000 million litres of untreated waste reaches the Indian rivers. BUT we continue to use them as sources of our drinking water.
DO you know that since independence more than 50 million children have died of drinking dirty water? And that in the 1990s more than a million children succumbed to diarrhoea and other gastrointestinal disorders? Isn't the price too high?
Big dams cause serious damage to surrounding ecosystems. See how dams affect the biodiversity.
Life threat to rivers?
Rivers have spawned and nurtured civilisations all over the world. They are the streams of life. Each phase of a river’s journey—from the source to the sea—is brimmimng with stories. Are you listening? Perhaps your share of water also comes from a river. Do you know its story?
Not enough water
Though crores and crores of rupees are being spent every year for buiding dams and canals, more than 60 per cent of our farms are fed only by rain. If the monsoons are meagre or even a little late, the farmers are in complete despair. They invest hard earned money to buy seeds, to till the fields...and if crops dry up, they face ruin.
Want to drink water? sorry out of stock...
A tumbler of water to drink. Would you believe that this is a rare commodity in most Indian villages? Women have to walk miles everyday to fetch the daily stock for their families. But the government has spent..hold your breath...Rs 45,000 crores in the past 30 years in setting up rural drinking water projects. Where has all the money gone? Now that is a question even Panditji will not be able to answer!!
Toilets...lost in the woods
More than 70 per cent of rural Indians live without toilets. While in most villages sanitation system does not exist at all, in some there are community toilets..without water connection! So men, women and children prefer to use the open fields as their bathrooms. Turning up your nose? Just stop a moment and think about the many health hazards these people have to deal with, because of this.
The local people told me there is a coalmine nearby. I went to have a look.
As I left I saw a number of people gathered outside the village. I think they were nomads. I didn’t have time to stop. Maybe you can find out and write back to me? Who are they? Why were they there?
You could also right to me about any solutions to the problems faced by the villagers.
Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
The flyover is complete. The chief minister is going to inaugurate it. There are mithais and garlands. But where are the people who actually built it-brick by brick? Construction is expensive usiness and the industry makes a lot of money.But construction labourers are perhaps the poorest work force in India. Many of them migrate from villages and most are unskilled.
Their families shift frequently and live in slums. They have no water, electricity or schools for kids. And they live in constant fear of losing their job. While wages are low, occupational hazards are high. Your city is home to thousands of people like these. Why do they stay on? Find out.
Follow the food trail
In the Victorian age, arsenic oxide was used in bread dough because it made bread whiter. It has now been found to cause cancer. But food additives are as much a part of life today, as they were in the Victorian times. You will find more than 2,500 additives available in the market. Most of these are harmful. For example the silver coating on barfi is actually aluminium foil. Aluminium gets deposited in bones and is known to cause Alzheimer’s disease.
Most packaged food has a variety of chemical additives. You can find out which are harmful and which are not. All you have to do is to list all the ingredients and check out their chemical compositions.
Wildlife, biodiversity, nature conservation and habitat. These words make you think of pristine forests… untouched by humans? But that ought to change. It’s time you thought of your backyard as a habitat.
Cities support an amazing variety of birds, animals and insects that are uniquely adapted to the urban scenario. You will find squirrels, bats, butterflies, reptiles and birds eking out a living in most cities. Crows are the best urban scavengers and owls keep the pest population under control. Sunbirds pollinate flowers and koels spread seeds. Flycatchers, drongos and bee-eaters also destroy harmful insects.
Do the names sound unfamiliar? Then may be your backyard deserves more attention. Identify the wildlife around you. You can even create spaces with the needs of the local species in mind and help them thrive. Be wildlife friendly!!