Thursday, February 11, 2021

Forests, Environment & Union Budget!



“The time I spent in the jungles held unalloyed happiness for me, and that happiness I would now gladly share. My happiness, I believe, resulted from the fact that all wildlife is happy in its natural surroundings. In nature there is no sorrow, and no repining. A bird from a flock, or an animal from a herd, is taken by hawk or carnivorous beast and those that are left rejoice that their time had not come today, and have no thought of tomorrow.”... Jim Corbett

Whenever the subject is forest just the way he has relieved thousands of people from living under the threat of a Man-Eater, the same way Jim relieves me from how to start my sharing & this one is also not an exception! Unfortunate fact is nearly hundred years back a white man (Englishman) nearly gave his life for conservation of forests in this very country of ours & wrote such wonderful words of wisdom about the forests & now when we call ourselves free country & largest democracy of the world, we don't care much (read as don’t care at all) about these forests which are our best ever treasure, actually! And if you think I am sounding like some extremist environmentalist or green movement worker, well, you have liberty to think whatever you want to but take one look at the budget of this trillion crore rupees or whatever figure it may in the economics & the provision our Mai Baap govt has made for the forests & you may believe on my words! Ok, here is something not just in newspapers but the information is from the web site of our finance ministry of the Union Budget Provisions for 2021, for the few heads including forest & environment dept too...

Agriculture, Rural Development, Irrigation and allied activities   ... Rs 2.83 lakh crore

Wellness, Water and Sanitation theme.... Rs 69,000 crore 

Education and Skill ... Rs 99,300 crore

Development and promotion of Industry and Commerce...  Rs 27300 crore 

Infrastructure sector ... Rs 100 lakh crore

Women and Child, Social Welfare...  Rs 35,600 crore

Environment and Climate Change.... Rs 4,400 crore

I am not some finance expert but a civil engineer & a wild lifer, so I am not that friendly or say at ease with the figures or budget heads & provision type details neither I know how many rupees makes total budget of our country! But one thing sure I know & understand & that is analogy, by which even a dumb (read as an engineer) can also make out the money provision made for environment (which includes forests) is way lesser in compare to many other heads from the above chart.  Here as usual many will wink their nose & say, what you want, moon & sun for the forests, are the other heads not more important than some wild animals which any way lives in forests & doesn’t need roads or medicines or education or food & many such things, so what more the govt should make provision of than four thousand plus crore rupees for the forests! I agree, as ours is a developing country & 130 crore population need many things to survive but the we have a democratic govt by the people, of the people & for the people but to whom the tigers, elephants, deer, leopards, falcons, mongoose, lizards & thousands of such species to look at for making budget provision for their needs, is I want to ask to all those who winks their nose at the demand for more budget provision for environment & forests! 

Yes Rs 4400 crore is definitely a big amount for a developing country like ours but then look at the volume of the forest area & millions of species making those lands as their home & the very same amount is going to be used for the environmental activities also which are directly related for the conservation of forest or say wild life or biodiversity, whatever we call it! For e.g. from this amount we have to stop pollution of rivers, lakes, ocean as well the mountains & hills. From the very same amount we have to make the millions of people living around every wildlife habitat which includes not just tiger sanctuaries but grasslands, wetlands, unprotected forests, mangroves & many such as its these people (read as humans) which are direct threat to the forests (and environment) if we don't give proper infrastructure to survive on their own!  As well from this amount we have to make provisions for the forest staff which is already very less in numbers & by infrastructure as most forest guards don't have proper accommodation as well facilities for their families while they serve deep within forests, away from the urban world to protect some tiger or a leopard & its home & from whom but none other than the fellow humans! Leave apart accommodation most forest staff does not have their own life protecting things like guns while the humans from whom these guards are supposed to protect wildlife have self loading rifles & no proper vehicles to cover the large areas & has to patrol on feet (which also is important)! This entire infrastructure including new posts & labour force is supposedly done from the budget provision & that’s why the amount is not enough. And then we have to make research, studies, and maps, collect data, awareness (which is the key actually) & many such activities, which will help us in conservation of the forests & environment & that's possible only from the annual budget provision only. 

Oh yes, some more figures I will share, the area of our country which is the seventh largest country by size is  32,87,263 square kilometres & the the land under forests of all types is is 7,12,249 sq km which is 21.67% of the geographical area of the country. By the way the ideal forest cover for the country & the target set is for 33%, means we have to not just protect this 7,12,249 sq km area but we have to add nearly 3,00,000 sq km area in this existing forest land & that means we have to acquire this land or free the same from other uses as well take efforts to make it green & see that the wildlife gets settled in this new added land under forest! And now tell me, we are talking about one third of land area of the entire country & the budget for the same is not even one hundredth of our total annual budget & still we expect only the forest dept or some NGOs' to Save the Tiger; seriously optimistically selfish souls we are really, are we not! At the same time the policies as well our bureaucratic hierarchy makes the forest dept crippled whenever it has to encounter its fellow depts’ may it be revenue (blue eyed) & police or irrigation or public work (road making), defense & oh yes railways too (how can I forget maximum wildlife kills which happens due to railway tacks passing through forests)! As all these depts. works for our (humans) comfort & safety as well earns revenue also along but its only the forest dept which does not work for the humans so they are tagged as speed breaker (read as obstacle)  for all other depts. & best way to cut their wings (and legs, hands & brain too) is cut their budge, isn’t it! 

As there are IFS i.e. Indian Forest Services  as well State level forest service’s but we all know (with high regards to many forest officer’s die hard attitude towards their duty) they all are like toothless & clawless tigers when are outside of forests because of the system we call as govt! And the major threat(or say the only threat) to the forests is not from inside but from outside of the forests, this very fact if we doesn’t accept now & act on, then the 33% of forest cover area is like "Mungerilal ke Haseen Sapne" i.e. impossible task! And all of this is reflected in the union budget provision for the forests; this is why I felt like taking the budget aspect of wildlife, to make masses aware! As with all due respect to my forest dept friends, none of their suggestions are taken into account while making development plans or any infrastructure projects as they are looked as trouble makers & so are their pleas for protection of forests is a bitter fact! This is the case of govt forest officials so less we speak about the NGO's working in the wildlife field & their suggestions is better! I repeat, I am not saying don't do developments or don't provide comforts to the humans, as I too am a human only but guys, create a balance somewhere, is all I am saying & I am not alone saying this! And for that lets start from the budget provision for the wildlife, as that's the first step! The wild life field’s NGO's task is more tough because where the govt itself don't give much money (read as a damn) for the needs of the wildlife how can we expect the so called successful city people to contribute generously for the wild life as here people can buy cameras worth lakhs of rupees & spend equal for one forest trip but when giving financial support (read as donation) for any wildlife activity then they have all the reasons for not being able to contribute, lockdown is the new one! 

This year has already been bad for most of the industries as well businesses & entire society but it was more bad for the forest people as their entire livelihood is dependent on tourists visiting forests & the whole season has washed away due to lockdown. I have seen the impact on the locals residing around forests & their financial status which already was & is below par than many city folks. In such times the forest dept & wildlife NGOs' will need more support in every form especially the money front, this our Mai Bapp govt must understand! Well, if you are not still satisfied with my logic, here is something more "aankho dekha haal", I visited a small grassland forest near Pune for photography of chinkara & grassland birds & a forest labour/ guard who was on contract basis employed, was accompanying me  around to show the habitat. After listening my chatting with my friend along, the guy must have realized I knew a name or two of senior forest officers (and good one), so he dared & told me that he hasn't received salary for nearly six months as the funds has not been released by the govt is what RFO (Range officer) was saying to him, so can I put a word to top bosses & do needful as the RFO from his pocket has gave him some advances to keep his household running! I said I will do whatever best I can & the story doesn’t ends here, it was Diwali vacation & I have got a box of sweets for the RFO there who happens to be my friend too. As the RFO was at taluka place of the forest & likely was not going to meet me I asked this forest labour fellow (Van majur) to hand over the box to RFO saab, though I didn't tell him what was in it! When I left for Pune, after an hour I received call from the forest labour (well, in India a man can live without food but cell phone he can afford, Jio mere lal) & he asked, "Sirji wo jo baxa aapne diya RFO saab ke liye, usme kuch mithai hai kya?", are there sweets in the box which I have given for RFO?. I replied, yes it is, then he sheepishly asked, "sirji, aap naraj na ho to, plz mai rakh lu wo baxa mithai ka, bacho ki diwali ban jayegi mere", i.e. can I keep the sweets box, please, my kids will be very happy as they don’t have anything for diwali! Well, my grassland trip photography joy was washed away in the lump which formed in my throat with those words & all I could say is, "rakhlo wo mithai bhai, Happy Diwali!" Well, that guard's family I could make happy with one sweet box but who will make such thousands of families as well species happy, is the question I want to ask; that's all folks, think over! 


Sanjay Deshpande 

Sanjeevani Dev.

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