India’s Deforestation Crisis | Analysis on The DeshBhakt with Akash Banerjee

There are two kinds of people in India- one, who remember Greta Thunberg while talking of Climate Change and the other, who remember PM Modi. Modi- It is not that winter is colder now, it is just that people get older and then they feel colder. Deshbhakt welcomes both kinds of people. There are certain things in our country that we don’t talk about. For example, boss doesn’t talk about appraisals, BJP supporters don’t talk about logic and news anchors don’t talk at all, they only shout. *Anchor shouting* There is one issue though that even we, the people of India do not talk about- Environment. Actor- Don’t lecture us now. Don’t get mad, this episode is not to scare you. There is no doubt today that climate change is real, global warming is continuously causing increase in earth’s temperature. Glaciers are melting, carbon emission is posing a huge problem for India. We won’t talk about all that though. We will talk about the most basic element of a healthy environment- trees, that keeps our country from turning into a barren land. We all have learnt in school that humans and animals exhale carbon dioxide that trees inhale and give us oxygen to breathe. Until scientists don’t find out cows exhale oxygen, we only have these trees to keep us alive. In the latest episode of The DeshBhakt, we’ll talk about this very substantial environmental issue- deforestation. If today we won’t take this seriously then it can pose even more serious disasters in the future. Climate change is slowly destroying our planet Earth. Today, a country’s growth is synonymous to its infrastructural growth but little do we talk about the forests that have been cut to achieve that growth. Maybe because lately in India, anything not-saffron is being considered anti-national. If you’re confused now then you’re going to get even more puzzled by our environment ministry. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, we are losing about 1,30,000 sq. km of forest land every day. More than 1 crore trees were cut in the last four years in India only. Don’t question me, these numbers are given by Indian government. The same ministry is also saying that forest cover in India is constantly increasing. Trees are getting cut in huge numbers and yet forest cover is increasing, what kind of logic is this? Actor- Something is very fishy here. According to government report, forest and tree cover has increased by more than 13 Lakh hectares in the last four years. The idea is that according to government’s definition, any area of about 1 hectare with about 10% canopy density will be considered a forest irrespective of the legal status of land or the species of trees. Piyush Goyal- Don’t get into those math’s. The passing percentage in school is also at least 40% but for a land to pass as a forest, the percentage of tree required is only 10%. Actor: What the heck is going on here? Basically, consider two football fields next to each other and plant trees of any kind in about 10% of its area and the land will be called a forest. Even sugarcane trees will pass as forest under this definition. In a report published by Yale and Columbia University in 2018, India dropped from 145th to to 177th position in Environmental Performance Index. In the same report, we ranked 180th in Environment Health, 178th in Air Quality, and 145th in water and sanitation. Basically, our environment is in a very bad shape. According to our former environment minister though, these are just rankings. We agree but these rankings are not that of environment performance but of our dark future. In Aarey forest recently, Maharashtra government had ordered to cut down about 3,000 trees for metro shed. The state government wanted to clear out the only green zone of about 1,300 hectares in the center of a city like Mumbai. Government promised that it will plant about 20,000 saplings around Mumbai. An RTI soon revealed that out of the 20,000 promised, the government has not even planted 5,000. RTI helps to reveal many such false claims by the government but not any more, our parliament has diluted this as well. Anyways, the replacement of fully grown trees with under-developed saplings is not the same. Bombay HC refused to declare Aarey colony a forest while our environment ministry has such a lenient definition for it. The order to not cut anymore trees finally came by the Supreme Court but that too when 1,500 trees were already cut. Such is the judiciary system in our country that the government also got what it wanted and it appeared as if justice is served. Not just in Mumbai but in other states also, similar projects are happening. About 9,500 trees are proposed to be cut for Dwarka Expressway, out of which 400 are already missing. Pollution is increasing everyday in Delhi but there is no delay in cutting trees. Pollution is spreading In India faster than hate and intolerance and yet we discuss non-issues on TV news debates. Pollution in Delhi is likely to take down 17 years from a Delhiite’s life. National Highway Authority of India had proposed to cut highway amidst the Aravali Biodiversity park. Deforestation in Aravali is at such high scale that 31 out of 128 hills in Rajasthan have disappeared over the years. Haryana government have also been trying to change the definition of forest area to keep Aravali out of protection by law. This high-scale deforestation has caused severe decline in groundwater level in the national capital region. Rainy days had also reduced drastically from 101 days in 1973 to only 25 days in 2009. And if we’ll count the days of monsoon season today, there is a chance that we may get depressed by the numbers. Speaking of Goa, more than 50,000 trees would be cut if the government approves its upcoming projects. Nearly 80,000 trees are proposed to be cut in Western Ghats for road and power projects. The government is cutting trees as the censor board in India cuts down adult films. In Talabira village of Odisha, 40,000 trees have already been cut for coal-mine projects in 2019. Apparently, this news is not important enough to be reported by India’s leading news channels. In March 2019, the Union Environment ministry gave Stage II clearance to divert nearly 1,000 hectares of forest land for coal mining project. This will involve the felling of about 1,30,000 trees. According to a MoEF&CC circular, Gram Sabha consent has to be acquired before forest diversion. So district officials provided a fake consent for carrying out mining. Considering our ability to acquire fake mark-sheet, fake notes, fake news, providing a fake consent is not a big deal. You must be thinking that if these development projects will not be carried out then we’ll blame government for stagnant economy. The thing is that the felling of trees have a direct impact to our health as well as our economy. Deforestation causes the exposure of top soil layer to the atmosphere. This top soil layer is the richest in nutrients. This top soil layer takes about a 1,000 years to build an inch and hence it causes huge losses to the country. According to an article published in 1986, this top soil erosion made the county suffer losses totaling more than Rs. 5,000 crores in five years. This loss may equate to much higher numbers today but no one bothers about it now. Climate change is a real thing. The temperature of Earth that didn’t increase ever has now escalated by 1 degree since 19th century. It is still rising rapidly and may soon increase by 1.5 degree. The proofs of climate change are right before our eyes and need no explanation. If the temperature of Earth rises by 2 degree, this will force several animal and plant species to extinction. Some places will experience drought while the other will face floods. You have all seen the Chennai water crisis last year. If you want to find out more, then please watch our previous episode on the water crisis in India. Climate change is already here, according to a report by NITI Aayog, 40% of Indians will not have drinking water by 2030. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to use Whatsapp and neglect this important environment crisis that is pacing towards our future. It is always very embarrassing for me to realize that we miss these sensitive topics so easily while they are so crucial for our lives. I hope that we discuss such issues even more and not get stuck with menial topics so that our country can develop more sustainable. Feel free to forward this episode on other social media platforms. 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