How many trees go down to light 23318 hearths?

Tungshang Ningreichon

A billboard by the forest department in a village says “Trees give water, Water gives rice, rice gives life” but do people read it or more importantly do they understand it? The years’ prolonged absence of rain badly hampered the agricultural cycle affecting the growth of crops especially rice cultivation. Many villages could not undertake paddy transplantation. This might mean additional import of rice from other states affecting the economy at large and hitting hard the poor, especially those, who solely depend on agricultural activities for their livelihood. Given the fact that the economy of states like Nagaland and Manipur are agrarian and forest based one will have to grapple with food crisis if proper measures are not taken in terms of food security. It is time that we take a serious note of the wrath of the environment for all the destruction that we have caused.

The district of Ukhrul is no exception when comes to raping the environment. A tiny village in Ukhrul called Shirui more popularly known for the flower- Shirui Lily that attracts about 20,000 visitors every year is a case of point. The Lily was declared as the state flower in 1989 creating a niche for the small village in the tourism map of India.

The Indian State is taking a real interest in the ‘Northeast’ and do not have a problem in allotting a generous and the highest amount so far of Rs.7900 lakhs for promoting tourism in this region. One do not see Shirui beyond the Lily but the village is most important for being a source of livelihood for many villages in Nagaland, Manipur and Myanmar because some important rivers in these areas traces its genesis to the Shirui river that provides water for all purposes.

There has been overexploitation of the environment in Shirui village and in almost all the neighbouring villages. Trees were felled since ages but for required household purposes. With the onslaught of commercialization there has been uncontrolled massive timber logging with sporadic and unsuccessful attempts by different organizations to ban it. Over the years the indiscriminate felling of trees has proved to be very damaging, disturbing the ecology at large and the hydrological system in particular.

It is interesting to note that after deducting the logistic charges one makes just about Rs2000 or even less for a truckload of firewood. It is forbidding at the rate of about 500 trips made in a year from the forest to the village just for household consumption and adding another few hundreds for commercial advantages, forests would be completely wiped out in few years. We are talking about a tiny village with barely 200 households. Using these figures one can then make an estimate of the number of trees that find its way in the hearths of 23318 households in the district that holds a population of 140946 and make a simple cost benefit analysis and fathom the destruction.

Realizing the dangers and also as a part of the environment awareness campaign the Shirui Village Authority with the youths have banned cutting of trees “at random” for any purpose. They have also put a ban on killing and catching endangered birds and animals, ditto with that of the National Wildlife Action Plan. The irony is but what is left to differentiate “endangered” from others. ‘Ban’ as a strategy to arrest environmental deterioration will never work because we are talking about people whose livelihood is dependent on land and forest.

Against the backdrop that only few unexploited areas belonging to the indigenous people are left that one can call forest, it is apparent that the State will unleash different strategies to takeover and control these areas through ‘Protected Area’ ‘Reserved Area’ ‘National Park’ et al that makes little sense to people. All these are jargons effectively used to separate indigenous people from their land in the era of globalization with MNCs and foreign funding agencies penetrating everywhere in the name of development. The concept of ‘Joint Forest Management’ also makes no sense when young trees(not even saplings) are uprooted just to be planted few metres away in the area chalked out by clearing the vegetation for the project. It will make more sense if the state starts making a real effort to improve people’s lives. People do not simply cut trees to destroy but because it is a source of their livelihood. Campaign against destruction of ecology makes little sense when areas that is more important and critical to peoples lives are not taken care of. If social sectors like health and education are adequately taken care of then half the social problem would be tackled. One need not elaborate on the quality of our education or how expensive it is to provide education to an average of four children in a family or the difficulties of seeking medical care, not to forget the collateral implications. Making household visits in different villages and being sensitive about peoples problem one would realize that most of the economic burden in families stems from these two. Health and education are not a treat but  fundamental needs and rights. It then becomes very imperative that the state give priority to improve the education system and health services and make it accessible so that people are not compelled to go to private schools and hospitals but are given choices especially with the attack of privatization and commercialization in health and education sector. The state should ensure that essential items are accessible to people at affordable prices. For a simple demonstration there are many families in far flung villages who do not use iodized salt because their buying capacity is very low. It then becomes very irrational when state allows items like salt to be sold at unreasonable prices (keeps increasing) just because it is iodized. In fact it should be sold at very cheap prices because of the very fact that it is iodized so then the state need not pour money in disease prevention programmes. Kerosene, candles should be made available easily because the state cannot construct roads and electrify all the villages. Even if villages are electrified regular supply of electricity cannot be guaranteed. If arrangements are made to make LPG and stoves easily available and affordable then the hearths of many homes would decrease slowing the rate at which trees are felled. All these can be rubbed off as trivial but these are indispensable fundamental issue for people. When such basic needs are taken care of, people are empowered to think in terms of saving and conserving and take responsibility to protect the environment. They can also save rivers from running dry and sustain life for many generations to come. Water being the main produce of natural forests around which ecological system revolves.