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An unsung hero of ecology

By R.P. Nailwal, Times of India, September 2, 1997

DEHRA DUN: Among the unsung heroes in the ecologically fragile Garhwal sub-Himalayan region is Jagat Singh, who has been working silently for over two decades to preserve the environment.

The efforts of this man, who is believed to have planted about 20,000 trees of 56 varieties in Kotmalla and Talla villages of Chamoli district, have remained by and large unnoticed.

“We will have to take inspiration from his achievement,” says R.S. Tolia, a senior IAS official and former principal secretary of the Uttarakhand development department. He admits that even the government’s forest department has not been able to perform such a task.

Because of the singular efforts of this former armyman, even the dried up water sources in the degraded slopes of the villages have come alive and people do not now have to go to far off places to fetch water. This man’s unique efforts are acting as a source of inspiration to other villagers in Chamoli district where the Chipko movement took birth in 1972.

“If there are no forests, there will be land slips and floods. We have already suffered a great deal during the past few decades as the rulers have always looked at Uttarakhand as the primary source of timber,” says Jagat Singh.

After retiring from the army over 20 years ago, his relatives advised him to do take up a job, but he had other intentions.

Jagat Singh realised that he had to save the forests and try to reverse the fast paced eco-degradation. He reckoned that not only had he to plant more trees on the barren slopes of the village area, but vegetables as well. Among the trees he planted were many fruit-bearing ones.

Successful intercropping of a variety of trees at a height of 4,500 feet above sea level has provided a good laboratory to many scientists of the Forest Research Institute here. His efforts have been lauded by these scientists.

“I am happy that I have not only succeeded in my mission but have also provided a platform for others to take advantage of,” says Jagat Singh. “Even cattle in our area now get a lot of fodder which is not found in abundance in the degraded forests of Uttarakhand.”