Environment needs more than tree plantation

The renewed efforts of the State Government toward reforestation are indeed laudable. The Government has already set a target of planting 75 lakh tree saplings by August end. No doubt, the target is ambitious but it is not impossible. It seems both the State and citizens have realised the importance of conserving forests for maintaining a healthy environment and for that matter, survival of mankind. Plantation of tree saplings is good but conservation of nature cannot be limited to plantation of trees alone. Again, the whole effort of reforestation cannot be restricted to ceremonious tree plantation. Everybody knows it takes years for a tree to grow and mature but it is only a matter of minutes for a lumberjack to cut down a majestic tree. There are many other aspects to conservation of nature. No amount of reforestation activities can save the ever degrading environment if rampant deforestation is not checked effectively. Apart from checking encroachment into reserved and protected forest areas, deforestation activities in all types of forest areas should be restricted to the minimum. At the same time, the State must ensure that the rights of forest dwellers are not violated either directly or indirectly. The effort to protect environment would definitely achieve a milestone when forest dwellers act as guardians of forests in their vicinities instead of over exploiting forest resources. Extensive poppy plantation is not only a socio-economic and political issue, it is a serious challenge to the environment for most poppy plantations are done after clearing forest areas. So any effort to conserve nature and protect environment needs comprehensive approach and of course, it should be driven by a strong political will.  In relatively backward societies, like ours, existential necessities and struggle for survival is degrading environment to a suicidal level. In the context of Manipur, jhum cultivation is a perfect example. Until and unless, the State makes necessary alternative arrangements which are sustainable, both economically and ecologically, the hill people are unlikely to give up this age old practice of paddy cultivation.
Plantation of lakhs of tree saplings every year would yield very little positive result as long as a sizeable section of the population continues to practise slash-and-burn agriculture. Despite the devastating effect on environment and ecology, the State has not yet shown any urgency to transfer the shifting cultivators to another source of livelihood or replace it with other income generating occupations.  Environmental degradation or climate change is perhaps the most talked about topic these days. But the harsh reality is, the supportive capacity of our environment has already been stretched beyond its limits and the cost is heavy.  Only time can tell whether the CM’s Green Manipur Mission can bring about a paradigm shift. We are not sure if the quite promising mission has any provision to replace jhum cultivation with environment friendly occupations but one thing is certain. As long as the jhum cultivation continues, a green Manipur can never be achieved. In another word, jhum cultivation is one major challenge to any mission aimed at checking environmental degradation in the State. Illegal lumbering is another major cause of environmental and ecological degradation in the State. All the negative impacts of over-exploitation are now glaringly visible. Flash floods as well as acute drought like situation are no longer uncommon these days. Having said this, we don’t expect our people would stop over-exploitation of forest resources from tomorrow or next month or next year. It is here, State intervention is needed the most. In another word, conservation of nature needs a comprehensive approach, far greater than plantation of tree saplings. At the same time, poppy plantation and tree plantation cannot go side by side.