The forest mafia is very powerful`
How did you, a historian, get so deeply involved with deforestation issues?
The history and culture of Uttaranchal is directly linked with its forests. I was working on the history of deforestation, and realised that the lucrative business of illegal timber trade is the single-largest cause of deforestation. Unless this is stopped, initiatives like joint forest management (jfm) and social forestry programmes would only grow forests for mafias.
How critical is the issue of deforestation in Uttaranchal?
Uttaranchal is a biodiversity hotspot. In the terai region, timber smuggling is also linked with the poaching of tigers, panthers, elephants, Himalayan black bear and musk deer. There is also the illegal procurement of medicinal plants. These activities have intensified over the last seven-eight years due to unemployment. So, basically, it is a livelihood problem today, and could become very dangerous if unchecked. Almost 20 to 30 trucks get past illegally through important checkposts, and each truck carries about 10 cubic metres of wood. The forest department can do nothing. The mafia is armed to the teeth. The forest department, one the other hand, does not possess sophisticated ammunition.
How did you get started on your work?
I started out alone, and am still not part of any group. Three years back, I conducted the study