(Part 6 of the 6 part story series talking about the efforts the Indian Army is taking towards sustainable environmental conservation)
The First Ecological Task Force (ETF) was raised in 1982, in a matter of 45 days on the express orders of the then Prime Minister, to treat the severely degraded hills of Mussoorie (Uttarakhand) due to intensive and incessant limestone quarrying. The treatment was in the form of planting saplings endemic to the region, looking after them for the next five years and then shifting to another degraded location to carry out the same task of planting saplings looking after them and handing over the treated area to the State Forest Department.
Today the same area is thickly forested and experiences similar temperatures and rainfall in spite of a 100 times increase in population, majorly because of the tourist influx.
Raising the Army of Eco Warriors
Building on the visible success of this ETF, nine more such ETFs have since been raised. Their locations are spread across the country from Samba in J&K to Dehradun & Pithoragarh (Uttarakhand), Sonitpur & Kokrajhar in Assam to Sri Mohangarh in the Thar Desert, Kufri in Himachal Pradesh to Bhatti mines, Delhi and Aurangabad in Maharashtra. These locations house only the Battalion Headquarters and the major workforce (companies) are all the times working in inaccessible and arable land.
The most recent battalion to be raised is 137 Composite Ecological Task Force (CETF) Battalion (TA) 39 GR, which has, in a short span of three months, already made an impact through Phyto-remediation of Nalas, stabilisation of river banks through Vetiver bindings, ensuring functioning of STPs, de-weeding of water bodies and planting of City forests and Food forests in the absence of availability of forest land in the State of Uttar Pradesh. It is also carrying out a ‘Clean Ganga’ awareness campaign.
“The Eco-Warriors, who have worked so hard and so effectively to alleviate the effects of climate change, prevent soil erosion, and preserve water through afforestation, are all Ex-Servicemen (Veterans), who bring with them Sincerity, Discipline, Dedication to the National Cause and the Will to successfully complete the task at hand, whatever the odds.”
Soldiers of the Indian Army retire early, mostly between 35 to 42 years of age. Their post-retirement employment in the Police and Central Armed Police Forces (BSF, CRPF, SSB, CISF etc) (CAPF), keeping in view their skills and experience, is substantially beneficial but hasn’t worked out due to a number of reasons and is unlikely to work out in the future too given that the efforts to provide post-retirement employments to ex-servicemen in the police and CAPFs haven’t borne fruit for the last thirty-plus years.
If the same ex-servicemen become Eco-warriors, they will, given their proven performance of the last thirty-seven years, ensure the Sustainable part of the Sustainable Development Goals for our Country. It will happen through mass Afforestation (Carbon Sink), Water Conservation, soil binding, rejuvenation of water bodies and flood plains, spreading awareness of and involving school children, college students and citizens in all the efforts of ETFs thus galvanizing the populace towards knowing and contributing to the SDGs.
ETFs for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Each State / Union Territory should raise two /three ETF battalions of three companies each totalling up to approximately five hundred ex-servicemen. Each company will have a working strength of hundred ex-servicemen that is two hundred working hands with an aim to build twenty thousand hands (ten thousand people) to spread the message and help in achieving the tasks of Afforestation, water erosion, soil binding and rejuvenation of water bodies and flood plains. An additional benefit, albeit as important, will be the increase in flora (cross-pollination) and fauna including avifauna and river mammals.
Most of the States are aware and appreciative of the Eco Warriors but the lack of funds makes the buck stop. As the Ministry of Environment Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) is already funding majority of the existing ETFs, it also finds it difficult to loosen its purse strings further.
The methodology if followed, will have the following benefits:-
- Afforestation addressed at a large scale all across the Country.
- Increased forest cover, forested land & green cover.
- Reduced floods, flash floods and soil erosion.
- Rise in the groundwater table.
- Revived water streams.
- Reduced temperatures across the Country.
- Increased carbon sink and soil carbon content.
- Enhanced agro- economic & socio-economic development.
- The utilisation of wasteland.
- Clean rivers and fresh air.
- Increased involvement of population and general awareness amongst masses.
- Better utilisation of funds like CAMPA funds.
- Re-habilitation of Ex-servicemen.
It is recommended that the Govt may take a thoughtful decision regarding raising of ETF Battalions for a genuine cause of global concern and allocate funds for the same. An amendment in the bill regarding utilisation of CAMPA funds to raise, maintain and support ETF Units to including entire cost be made.
The Gordian knot can, however, be untied. 27 states have been given funds to the tune of Rs.47436 Crore out of the Rs. 54000 Crore earmarked under the head of ‘Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority’ (CAMPA). The present policy/ guidelines for expending CAMPA funds do not allow for pay and allowances/ infrastructure development. All that is required for all states/Union Territories to have two to three ETF battalions, is to permit funding their raising and functioning from CAMPA Fund. All ex-servicemen being employed as Eco-Warriors in ETFs are on a contract for five years to seven years and no pension is admissible to them for their service as Eco-warriors.
In short, Eco-warriors, given their past performance are capable of achieving Sustainability part of the SDG and the states are keen to employ them provided the funds are available. These funds are already available in plenty in the form of CAMPA. If this fund could be utilised for ETF Battalions, India would be an example to the world to follow in respect of climate change, greening of deserts, prevention of soil erosion, conservation of water, recharging of water bodies and increase in wildlife.