Eco Tourism of India
¤ Ecosystem In India
The Himalayan region is a particularly fragile ecosystem. The
interconnections between the different types of vegetation, between
plant life and the soil, between the soil, vegetation and water are so
close and so precariously balanced that the slightest change in one
plunges the entire system into jeopardy. Ecosystems on seismic belts,
for example, are literally at the mercy of the land.
Nature plays havoc in other ways too: the monsoon pattern often spells
drought in the dry season, and terrible floods during rainfall.
Embrace the trees
Save them from being felled;
The property of our hills,
Save them from being looted.
Folk poet Ghanshyam Raturi
¤ An Age Old Process of Human Extension
Way back in 326 B.C., when Alexander the Great came to India, his
advance was checked by almost impenetrable forests along the Indus. By
the time Emperor Ashoka ascended the throne, stretches of forests had
already been cleared to make roads.
Ashoka realised the importance of conserving forests, and even
appointed an officer for the purpose.
Sher Shah Suri was also farsighted, and planted trees all along the
route from Delhi to his capital Patna. However, the Mughals
interest in forests was sadly limited to a rather hedonistic passion
for big game.
Under the British rule, deforestation became rampant in order to
procure timber to build furniture, railway sleepers and ships for the
British navy. However, the British soon realised that forests had to
be spared the ordeal.
After Independence, forests were cleared whenever wood was needed
either for timber or agriculture, or for setting up townships.
Forests were razed to the ground mindlessly till the eastern hill
people decided to say a collective Stop!
¤ The Starting of Chipko Movement
That was in the 1970s the beginning of the Chipko Movement,
one of the countrys most successful environmental movements,
which then spread rapidly across the Himalayan foothills. Here, one
must mention the name of Sundarlal Bahuguna an ascetic
Gandhian, and perhaps the torchbearer of Indias struggle to save
Chipko literally means to stick, although here well
use the more appropriate version which is to embrace/cling.
Fuelled by a strong urge to save trees from being chopped down, the
women of the Himalayan region embraced the trees in an attempt to
The sight of a man with an axe was enough to make hordes of people
race out of their huts to cling to the nearest trees.
and they would stay put with their arms around the trunks until the aggressor
had passed. If the mans intention were to actually cut down a
tree, he would stare around in amazement while the local population embraced
as many trees as he could see. He would then simply leave, for the
alternative would be to hack human beings before getting to the wood.
¤ Forest Distructions Through Fire
Forest fires have largely contributed to deforestation. Forests in
India are very susceptible to fires, especially in summer. All it
takes is one little spark and a forest fire could reduce considerable
green stretches to ashes in a matter of a few hours.
Earlier the Bishnois of Jodhpur (Rajasthan) even laid down their
lives to save trees. The Bishnois are a religious community, famous
for their loyalty towards animals and trees. In fact, they are known
to worship the blackbuck as a sacred animal.
Various measures are being taken to curb the felling of trees.
Clearing forests is now an offence under Indian law, unless approved
by the concerned authorities. However, deforestation has acquired
alarming proportions in India. The countrys total forest cover
today has fallen to a little more than approximately 10% a
dismal situation for a country with a population of over a billion.
¤ Land Degradation
Every year, valuable topsoil is swept away by floods in the rainy
season. and deforestation contributes to the problem of soil erosion.
Man may well have compounded the problem.
¤ Introduction of Chemical Farming
To sustain the countrys enormous population, intensive chemical
farming was introduced in the 1960s, ushering in the Green
Chemical fertilisers and high yield grains were used on an
unprecedented scale. Although production tripled, the quality of the
land took a battering. Chemicals and toxic substances too have taken
their own toll on the land. Desertification (cultivable land turning
barren) is a serious problem in some parts of the country, especially
¤ Water Conditions
Despite high rainfall, water levels have dropped alarmingly in many
places in the country. Obviously this is due to the demands of a
burgeoning population. In any case, the monsoon cannot always be
relied upon; it is not uncommon for a region like Rajasthan to be
stricken by drought once every two to three years.
While hydroelectric projects are a partial solution to the problem,
their overall efficiency is not beyond interrogation. The
Narmada Valley Project a vast project of several dams aimed at
providing water and power for Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and
Maharashtra when completed, is projected to submerge an
estimated 350,000 hectares of forest and 200,000 hectares of
cultivated fields, and displace nearly 400,000 people.
Spearheaded by the environmentalist Baba Amte, Medha Patkar, and more
recently Arundhati Roy, a vigorous campaign is in progress against the
building of the dams.
Another controversial project is the Tehri Dam in Uttar Pradesh.
Besides the displacement and loss it is projected to cause, another
dread is that the dam may burst as it is being constructed on an
The distinguished man in white, Sunderlal Bahuguna has once again
spared no effort at raising public consciousness about the issue at
Despite having some of the strictest laws in the world against
pollution, India is one of the most environmentally polluted countries
in the world.
Air pollution is so grave in cities like Delhi, Calcutta, Kanpur and
some others, that simply breathing the air is equivalent to smoking
10-20 cigarettes a day! Recently, Delhi acquired the dubious
distinction of being one of the five most polluted cities in the
world. The rivers in the country have not been spared either.
Industrial waste and a combination of other factors have contributed
to the plight of these dying rivers. In some places, safe
drinking water, is a rare commodity. Lakes and river habitats too have
been polluted. The Yamuna Action Plan was a project undertaken at a
tentative cost of Rs 20,000 crore (see Yamuna Action Plan under Delhi)
to cleanse the river of pollutants. A similar project was undertaken
for the mighty Ganga River.
Ancient texts including the epics, the Buddhist Jatakas, the
Panchatantra or the more recent Jain scriptures, all preach
non-violence towards even the lowest forms of animal and plant life, a
philosophy that the Indian Maharajas and their British guests chose to
overlooked for a while.
The Indian Government has an uphill task to perform. It has been able
to protect only about 4% of the total forest cover in the form of
National Parks and similar reserves. Underhand activities like
poaching are not entirely unheard of even in these restricted areas.
Currently there are about 80 National Parks and 441 sanctuaries in
the country. Massive tree plantation programmes are also being
undertaken. The Vana Mahotsava, first started in 1950, is an annual
tree-planting festival celebrated across the nation.
¤ Individual Efforts
Vishweshwar Dutt Saklani of Garhwal, in Uttar Pradesh, is a small
time farmer who started planting trees to seek solace after the death
of his brother (who had initiated the practice) in 1948.
In the last 50 years, Vishweshwar has overlaid 100 hectares of land
with oak, cedar, walnut and rhododendron. People were dismissive of
him until they saw the sea change that his work had brought about in
Denuded hills became green, land became more fertile and dry
streambeds filled up. Fodder and fuel were in plenty and everyone was
happy.Vishweshwar received the Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra Award
Bikkalu Chikkaiah and Thimmakka were a childless couple who worked in
a quarry close to Bangalore.
They decided to raise banyan trees in lieu of the children they were
unable to have. So they chose a barren piece of land en route to their
The couple planted saplings and put protective barriers around them.
In the evenings, they lugged water from a well a kilometre away. 40
years later, 284 banyan trees provided shade to a 3km stretch.
Thimmakka received the National Citizens Award in 1996.
Abdul Karim of Kasargod, Kerala too did something similar. He turned
a dry piece of land into a veritable forest after 19 years of hard
labour. His deciduous trees brought water back into the soil. Karim
went a step ahead and got some animals in this forest, to successfully
replicate a healthy ecosystem.