At the feet of poverty

  • 30/05/1995

THE Aravallis, the oldest and hoariest mountain range in India, are today some of the most barren sentinels in the country. At the foothills of this range, which extends all the way from Haryana to Rajasthan, lie villages which live in desperate poverty, lacking food and water.

Aravalli Paharian Hariali Ki Ore documents the efforts of the Haryana Forest Department to revive the past glory of these mountains. Village elders speak with nostalgia of times when the now-shaven hills were covered with lush green forest and wildlife. There was Dever any dearth of land to grow crops and a generous land was able to provide everyone with enough employment.

Gradually, things changed. Says a woman of Ghata village near Ferozepur Jhirka, "In the absence of good forest (cover), there is no firewood for cooking, no fodder for cattle, and it is the women who suffer the most."

The film focuses on the monstrous stone crushers at the quarries and the consequent hideous pollution in the area. It also links the area's environmental problems to urbanisation in the nearby cities, particularly the Delhi. The Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary has been affected so much by environmental degradation that it is now little but an expanse of dead, ochre land. The lake that once attracted the birds has gone dry. Today, 3 tubewells desperately pump water into the lake to maintain a minimum water level.

Thankfully, the afforestation efforts of the forest department in the Jhir forest in Gurgaon district were rewarded. The sudden contrast of landscapes is brought out well in the film although once again, as in the earlier film, Marusthal par Vijay, the officials are so overwhelmed by their success that they poetically compare the rejuvenated Aravallis to the valley, of Kashmir.

The film explains how land is catcgorised and saplings planted to suit the soil. The mid-term observation and evaluation of the Aravallis' afforestation project shows a very promising picture. The 8-year project was started in 1990 at a cost of Rs 49 crore, of which 85 per cent has been contributed by the European Community.

The film also shows other activities that have been taken up by the project personnel: workshops, posters, news bulletins and exhibitions impart information related to the project. And, like other government organisations, the Haryana forest department also makes the mistake of assuming that the villagers are ignorant about farming and need to be educated in forestry.

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