Category: Forests (page 2 of 2)

Fire and Renewal in Mizoram

Last month, a photo-story of mine appeared in the remarkable People’s Archive of Rural India. Here is an excerpt and some images as a slide show. You can read the full story here Crop cycles: Fire and renewal in Mizoram.

March 15, 2014: Today, farmers of the Serhmun village would start a fire on the hills near Tuilut, to meet a deadline set by the state government. We were in Damparengpui, a remote village in Western Mizoram, from where we wanted Lal Sanga to take us in his autorickshaw up the bumpy, winding hill road to Tuilut.

“Do you really want to go all the way to see that?” he asked. It would turn out to be the loudest, hottest, most spectacular fire that I had witnessed at close range. A deliberate fire that would reduce to ashes what had been, until some weeks ago, a dense bamboo forest. And yet, the fire did not signify destruction as much as it did a new beginning.

Read on…

Or click to view the slide show.

… This post appeared in my blog on the Coyotes Network on 31 May 2015. Read more in the The Wild Heart of India: Nature and Conservation in the City, the Country, and the Wild.

Blowin’ in the Wind — II

From a boat on Assam’s Deepor Beel—the freshwater lake lying south-west of Guwahati, the largest city in India’s northeast—you can look east past thousands of waterbirds and a carpet of floating leaves to see the city’s seething, smoking garbage dump. Under spotless blue skies, a thin brown haze blankets the lake from fringing forest to quarried hillock, from skirting township to the Boragaon dumpyard. As another dump truck lurches to a halt and tips its load of filth over, an unruly mob of Black Kites and a cloud of dark mynas explode from the murky earth flapping like pieces of tattered cloth caught in a gust. The truck deposits another mound of unsegregated waste—a fraction of the more than 600 tons generated daily from the city of nearly a million people—all plastic and putrefaction, chicken heads and pigs entrails, street dirt and kitchen waste, broken glass and soiled cloth, bulbs and batteries and wires and electronics and metal and paper and more. Beside the truck waits a line of people: women, adolescents, and children. And behind them, a phalanx of Greater Adjutant storks—tall, ungainly birds with dagger-like beaks and naked yellow and pink necks—awaits its turn.

…Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Bob Dylan, Blowin’ in the Wind

This piece follows an earlier post, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’.

… This post appeared in my blog on the Coyotes Network on 18 February 2015. Read more in the The Wild Heart of India: Nature and Conservation in the City, the Country, and the Wild.

The Walk that Spun the World

It starts as a walk in a forest in Vermont, which takes me, strangely enough, into the high Himalaya. On a balmy July afternoon, with hesitant clouds massing out west, I set out on foot down the road that passes through the village of Craftsbury Common, Vermont. I leave behind the public library and the silent church whose spire towers over the open meadow of the commons and the white clapboard houses in the village. Ahead, the forest appears, flushed green and dense and dark from summer rains. Open fields, loon lakes, and lush farms adorn the landscape, but it is the tranquil forest that entices me in. Almost involuntarily, I am drawn into the woods, up the winding trail that disappears into darkness.

… This post appeared in my blog on the Coyotes Network on 28 October 2014. Read more in the The Wild Heart of India: Nature and Conservation in the City, the Country, and the Wild.

Madagascar Essays

Two essays of mine based on field experiences in the island of Madagascar appeared recently. In these, I write about lemurs, tourism, conservation, and restoration of rainforests in the island. Here are a couple of teaser extracts and links to the essays.

Black and white ruffed lemur in Ranomafana

From ‘Madagascar, Through the Looking Glass’ that appeared in EarthLines in March:

Where are the other trees in the countryside, he wonders? They see only a single palm tree during the drive and stop to photograph it. A few mango trees, Chinese guava, and that is all. Everything else is eucalyptus or wattle or pine. He feels something deep and significant is missing but cannot put his finger on it. Is it the absence of the great forests and other trees that were here once? The missing lemurs, even the giants, and the birds, like the elephant bird Aepyornis maximus – the mythical roc? Is it them? Were they even here, a millenium, two millenia ago? What was here then? He does not know. Does anybody know, he wonders. There appears no trace, no trace at all that he can see or sense, no memory of the past, of life before loss. He has never before seen an entire landscape that has lost its memory.

Read the full piece here: PDF (1.1 MB).

Indri in the forests of Andasibe

From ‘The Call of the Indri’ appearing in this month’s issue of Fountain Ink:

The smallest primate in the world is a lemur. At 30 grams, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is just a tad heavier than a sparrow. Imagine a miniature tennis ball, covered in a soft pelt of brown and cinnamon and creamy white, which has sprouted delicate limbs and clasping hands, a long furry tail, and a little head that turns to look at you through large, lustrous eyes. Like all other lemurs—including the iconic ring-tailed lemur, the aye-aye and sifakas, dwarf lemurs and sportive lemurs—this lemur’s natural range is confined within the island of Madagascar. The largest living lemur in Madagascar is the indri. At seven kilograms, the indri weighs as much as a healthy, six-month-old human infant. But instead of a crawling or bawling child, imagine a wild primate, dressed in striking black-and-white, capable of prodigious leaps from tree to tree and endowed with an incredibly loud and mesmerising singing voice.

In October 2012, one month before our visit to Madagascar, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur and the indri, along with four other lemur species, were listed among the world’s 25 most endangered primate species. … All lemurs larger than the indri are already extinct.

Read the full article here.

Breaking Newspeak: India’s Environment Ministry’s New Avatar

It’s official. In one of its early actions upon assuming office, India’s new government led by Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, has changed the name of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). The new minister, Mr Prakash Javadekar, who today took charge of the ministry housed in Paryavaran Bhavan, New Delhi, will also carry on his card the interesting twist in nomenclature. Like his predecessors, he will continue to be Minister of State (Independent Charge),  but now he will be Minister of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change. And so, the MoEF now becomes MoEF-CC, if you will. Perhaps this signals that India will now take climate change more seriously and it is high time that we did so. Yet, if you read the following flurry of news headlines that appeared over the last few days, you might come to a slightly different conclusion.

As Modi’s new government gets to work, a promise to investors

Maharashtra hopes Prakash Javadekar to give green clearance, speed up stuck projects

Govt goes all out to woo investors

20 Projects Worth Rs 1.2 L Cr Await Modi’s Clearance

Industry looks forward to a new era under Modi

Maybe the climate change that the new, improved MoEF is going to take more seriously is change in the climate for business, industry, and investment.

Why should this be a cause for worry? Because, a lot of India’s forests are at stake in the rush to cater to industry. Even the previous government, although labelled as less responsive to industrial needs, actually allowed the clearance of a whopping 702,000 hectares of forest land over the last ten years chiefly for industry, infrastructure projects, and other non-forest uses. The new government already has pending clearances for over 830,000 hectares of forests awaiting its nod. If the MoEF, like earlier, remains under the shadow of the centres of power in the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), to name a few, what is the prognosis for India’s environment, forests, and wildlife? If the MoEF is now MoEF-CC, does it just mean everything that MoEF does will be CC-ed to the finance and commerce ministries and the PMO for their blessings?

What adds to my consternation is this video of the new environment minister speaking of the “very vital ministry” that is MoEF:

Environment protection and development is important: Prakash Javadekar

Behind his apparently well-intentioned words, their appears to lurk some Orwellian doublethink. Rather unwittingly, in something that sounds like a slip-of-the-tongue (or “What is that word I wanted?”), he says that some people think environment protection is ‘antidote’ to development, which he seems to almost disagree with! His last line is chilling.

…some people think that environment protection and development is antidote [sic!], they don’t go hand-in-hand. But I’m firm believer that both can go hand-in-hand. There is no contradiction in both the goals because these serves humanity. After all, poverty is the biggest disaster. So, India needs a window for growth and emissions and other things.
~ Prakash Javadekar

Although he does say that development and environment can go together, and talks of poverty as a disaster, he explains neither and it ends up sounding like the usual platitudes. After India has witnessed a decade of unprecedented forest clearance, after seeing entire landscapes and communities ravaged by mining in Goa and Central India and north-east India, after watching forests and wildlife habitats sundered or submerged by massive infrastructure projects from roads to dams (and even more proposed), it is hardly reassuring to hear the environment minister say, within a day of assuming office, that “India needs a window for growth and emissions and other things.” Unless, of course, this is malreported.

To be fair, it is too early to say anything about the minister or what the ministry will do. The Minister is known to have been actively involved in environmental issues, but also for being critical of the environment ministry earlier for not permitting industrial and infrastructure projects.

Cleaving the forests: what is the real infrastructure? Roads, powerlines, and canals are just superstructures built upon the real infrastructure represented in human and natural capital.

Perhaps, the new minister will blaze a different path: one that is not ungood, involves no doublethink, one that it is not all Newspeak. The latter is especially crucial, as the same minister holds another key portfolio: he is also the Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the new government.

Still, it seems like a good idea to keep the antidote of environmental protection handy.

antidote ˈantɪdəʊt/ noun
a medicine taken or given to counteract a particular poison.