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Vandalism in the name of development

The Forests and Environment Minister of India has recently revealed in the upper house of Indian Parliament that during the year 2003-05 the country has lost a total of 728 square kilometers as per the estimation of Forests Survey of India. In respect to Orissa, the ministry separately said that at present it has only a meager 288 square kilometer of dense forests against a geographical area of 155707 square kilometers. Even as the Government insists the forests-land ratio to be 31 percent, the environmentalists have vehemently disputed the figure terming this as inflated. They have estimated it to be a dismal 10 percent or less. It may be mentioned that while at the time of country’s Independence, the state forests covered 48 percent of its landmass–since than, it has been regressing to a great extent causing much concern and triggering unprecedented environmental imbalances of gigantic proportions. According to norms the forests and tree covers of the state is seven percent less than the national average.
The exceptional loss of green covers of Orissa is the result of wanton destruction of trees by the unscrupulous timber mafia in connivance with some of the corrupt officials of the government and wayward politicians. However, the blame for this is very often conveniently shifted to the forests dwelling tribals, who over the generations traditionally lived, cared for, protected and depended on the forests, mostly for subsistence. The depletion of green covers has also led to the loss of valuable flora and fauna in a big way.

The rapid depletion of minimum level of green covers in the state has precipitated the process of desertification in the arid districts of Western Orissa, according to an independent research carried out by researchers of non-government organizations. These areas have been experiencing consecutive spells of droughts and heat waves that hovers around 50 degree centigrade. Additionally, rest of the areas of the state is also experiencing high level of heat wave, environmental pollution and water shortage including abnormal shifts in weather cycles. Though, the normal annual rainfall for the state is 1482 millimeter, since 1995 till 2004,the state had deficient rainfall for eight years except for the years 2001 and 2003. It is to be noted that during the last 45 years, except for only two years, Orissa went through the recurring agonies of either floods or droughts of severe magnitude.

The rivers and other water sources are increasingly getting chocked due to soil erosion and resultant decrease in the water beds. Now, the rivers carry less and less loads of water. Coupled with reduced rainfall and increase in urban population and industrial activities; water is gradually becoming a scanty resource. If the trends continues, it can be said that in coming 50 years the water shortage will be so acute that it may lead to large scale societal and environmental disturbances affecting not only the human population but also all other organisms.

One of the major causes of the mindless decimation of forests relates to over industrialization and mining activities. It is somehow believed by the power elites and business interests that it brings in prosperity for the people and for achieving that Utopian ends, the natural resource rich tribal and forests areas need to be cleared as soon and as fast as possible to pave way for faster economic growth of the state and the nation in general. Such economic activities have wrought havoc in the lives of people either displaced or still living in the periphery of the so-called prosperity zones in relation to the pulverized and damaged environment and in turn has resulted in artificially scripted human miseries.



Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.