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Book on forests lauds Saklani’s work

December 8, 1997 (UNI)

DEHRA DUN: The fascinating story of forest regeneration begun by Mr Visheswar Dutt Saklani 50 years ago in Tehri district of Garhwal has been given the pride of place in a recent book on the Himalayan forests.

Written by Switzerland-based forester Christian Kuchli, The Forests of Hope – Stories of Regeneration observes that as in other areas of the world, conservation and regeneration of forests are primarily a social problem and only secondarily a biological problem. No one has demonstrated this more convincingly than Visheswar Dutt Saklani, the man who planted 30,000 trees, says the author.

Mr Saklani is a farmer living in the Song Valley in Saklana Village in Tehri district, about 80 km from the Doon Valley. The catchment area of the River Song, which merges with the Ganga further downstream, is part of Garhwal and lies between Kumaon to the east and Himachal Pradesh to the west.

MEMORIAL: The story of Mr Saklani`s forest began in January 1947 when his brother lost his life in the Independence struggle. In his grief, Mr Saklani decided to establish a forest in his brother`s memory. Each year, on January 11, friends and relations gather with Mr Saklani to plant more trees, which have since grown to constitute a forest of oak ‘larger than 20 football fields`.

”He was a man who cared for Siva`s locks and watched over their regeneration,“ writes Mr Kuchli in the chapter on India titled ‘Resolving Conflicts to Protect Siva`s Locks`.

In the Nineteenth Century, the Garhwal Himalayas were abundant in forest wealth. In 1838, writes Mr Kuchli, a British colonial official reported that nowhere else in the world did farmers have such good clothes or such well- built houses as in Garhwal and Kumaon. In 1855, a British promoter of the iron industry described the forests of Garhwal and Kumaon as ‘boundless and inexhaustible` and reported that the forests at every mining site ‘can supply sufficient charcoal for the largest English furnace for 100 years to come`.

The population of India grew steadily from 1920 onwards. Timber was increasingly rafted from the hills to the lowlands, where it was needed for energy as well as for construction. Often it was auctioned off before being felled.

The estrangement of local populations from their traditional resources also had disastrous effects on reserved forests. The Indian Forest Service made a steady effort to manage reserved forests according to the principles of scientific forestry.

DOOMED: ”But ivory-tower approaches to forestry which exclude local communities from participation were doomed to failure in India, just as they had been earlier in Europe,“ says Mr Kuchli.

The tragedy that has afflicted the Himalayas, he says, stems primarlily from the dissolution of traditional rights and social structures. ”Confirmation of this can be seen in regions where access is difficult and where traditional forms of local organisation have been maintained here significant tracts of forest have often survived.“

Mr Kuchli advocates institution of a ”universal culture of sustainability“ in which all human beings have fair access to natural resources and the chance to earn a livelihood.