Witness to Environmental Degradation Scene in India
Syed Ali Mujtaba
In the month of January, 2013, I traveled from Paras-Nath, the Jain pilgrimage center in the Jharkhand state to Gaya, Bihar. I traveled in the 'cattle class' compartment of a local passenger train to have the feel of real India.
The Indian states of Bihar and Jharkhand are on the eastern Railway route and the state of Jharkhand that is carved out of Bihar in the year 2000 has hilly terrain and tribal population. The lush green trees cover the rocks making it a perfect setting of a forest.
I have traveled on such train journey before and it used to be a beautiful sight with leaves brushing the windows and one can pluck some flowers or fruit on the way. Alas it’s no more, one can see the plight of the forest with its fallen trees from a distance.
A rampant felling of the trees is going on in this part of the world. Some mafia men operating in these jungles with the help of local tribal’s are cutting the trees in a large scale.
I was caught up in the train, which stopped midway in between the forest and rocks and saw huge amount of logs, (must be more than 100 ton of log) stuffed into the train. All the passengers suffocated inside the compartment as the guys stacked the logs everywhere in the compartment. They were ferrying this goods from there to Gaya town, the seat of Buddhism in India.
Apart from wood there were many gunny bags of charcoal that was also loaded into the train. These charcoals were meant for the incense sticks (Agarbati) industry thriving in Gaya. The charcoal is produced burning the trees in the jungle, that’s first felled and then left to be dried and to be burnt to produce charcoal.
The activity is taking place in most of the passenger trains on Kodarma to Gaya line within a distance of about 50 kilometres. The train crosses the local stations like Gujhandi, Dilwa, Gurpa, Paharpur and Tankuppa where are logs loaded. Then most of the logs are off loaded between Bandhua and Manpur stations that fall in the outskirts of Gaya town.
The scene on the train is glaring. One is applaud why it’s not reported in the local media and why no action is taken to stop such kind of environmental degradation that’s going on with impunity.
There seems to be a very systematic operation going on in this part of the country. It is done with the connivance of local officials, forest department, and train officials.
The passengers traveling in such train are poor illiterate folks, who are just mute spectators. Even though they may not be happy about the way things are happening, they simply don’t know what to do.
My inquisitiveness arose to know more about such blatant theft of forest resources happening in broad daylight in such secluded train route. I started inquiring about this and was told by a loader Deepak Marandi who was stacking the logs in the compartment that they pay 30,000 rupees to the train driver and other staff members for ferrying the logs to Gaya.
I saw a huge number of tribal people waiting near the railway tracks with their collection of logs to be loaded in the train. The train stopped exactly where such folks were standing. Some of the loaders were waiting along with the tribals, others traveled in the train. The loaders quickly got into the act once the train stopped. Logs were stacked between two compartments, on the passage and on the door and some near the window. Some even took the wood up on the roof, but that’s dangerous as its hilly terrain, told Deepak.
The tribals were paid according to the weight of the wood they could collect and bring to the railway track. It appears that in certain cases an entire family was involved in this activity. After the loading was over, the tribals collected their wages and disappear into the forest. They are supposed to come next day with another bunch of logs.
After the loading operation gets over the train starts moving on its journey to Gaya. When the town starts approaching the train slows down at certain specified places and logs are unloaded. There trucks are waiting and logs are again loaded and transport via road to the city.
It appears there are ‘big fishes,’ which are funding this and buy the logs to use it for different purposes. Since the quality of the wood is very good it can be used for making furniture, said Deepak who was very candid in his description.
Its residues are used for burning purposes and replaces cooking coal. Some woods are even burnt to make charcoal that is used for making incense sticks.
With ‘Bodh Gaya’ (Vatican of the Buddhists) at arms distance, incense sticks are in great demand as Buddhist uses them for religious purposes. This is a lucrative business that’s thriving at the expense of the forest wood, explained Deepak my fellow passenger, sitting on the log of woods.
This is a true ground report that needs to be highlighted in the national media. It calls for immediate action to stop such wanton destruction of the forest resources. A constant vigil and follow-up is required so that such acts do not get repeated over a period of time.
Syed Ali Muntaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org