Ajit was a dear dear friend. He was one of the finest human beings and the most dedicated Indian Forest Service Officers I have come across. He lived within his means and believed firmly in the tenet “justice with fairness”. He lived with a purpose and his commitment to enforcement of the law of the land when it came to protecting forest and wildlife was ultimate.
I saw closely and marvelled Ajit’s expertise regarding wildlife from close range and am amply aware of the vested interests that did everything to keep him at a distance when it came to wildlife management in Madhya Pradesh at the senior level. The vested interests were so deeply entrenched that at one stage an attempt even was made by a Principal Secretary Forest to block his promotion for good at the CCF level through an adverse CR. He had brilliantly contested the diabolic action and assessment by the bureaucrat in question. Ultimately his reasoned interjection won him the day. The irony was, this bureaucrat was later rewarded with a post-retirement sinecure and was made a Vice Chancellor.
I will never forget the long (after office) hours, Sundays and other public holidays he used to spend with me in the decade of the 90s discussing threadbare the factors threatening forest. A large part of these marathon exchanges were always focused on the tiger habitat and endangered species. That’s when during one of my tours as a journalist, I learnt how ex-Chief Minister Kamal Nath, who was then Union Minister and unquestioned leader from Chhindwara, was patronising those engaged in illegal fishing in the Totladeh reservoir in Pench Tiger Reserve. Exclusive reports by me in The Hindu to expose this had led to the intervention of the Supreme Court in this matter. I will always remain indebted to Ajit Sonakia for suggesting the name – Crusade for Revival of Environment and Wildlife (CREW) – and helping in framing the objectives of our NGO. CREW took off by conducting ground level investigation into factors threatening the tiger habitat and more particularly the problem of poaching and releasing the path breaking report Vanishing Stripes in June 1999. Next year we had released the sequel, Vanishing Stripes II.
Ajit played a leading role in turning CREW into a think tank and remained closely associated with Central Indian Highlands Wildlife Film Festival.
Bhopal: “Soch Aur Samwad” – A think tank spearheaded by a group of leading ladies in the State capital – organised a brainstroming session at Bhojpur Club here on Friday, 7 June 2019, to address the issue of water. The marathon discussion revolved around the theme “Boond Boond Jindagi, Jeevan Amrit” (life in every drop, water- the elixir of life)
Ajit Sonakia, a 1979 batch Indian Forest Service Officer, who has retired as Principal Chief Conservator of Forest M.P. and is a former Director Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Madhav and Sanjay National Parks delivered the keynote address. He spoke about Climate Change and said that water is an integral part when we talk of the crisis of global warming.
Sonakia laid special stress on the need to plant trees and underscored the importance of proper and controlled use of water by one and all. He was particularly critial of those who live in posh government bungalows and use water recklessly to wash their vehicles and pavements. This is in sharp contrast when it comes to the common people who are being denied even the basic supply of water.
At the outset, Ms. Arti Sharma, the progenitor of “Soch Aur Samwad”, a not for profit social organisation devoted to addressing and suggesting solutions for issues confronting the people, had set the tone for discussion.
Water is a natural resource. We cannot manufacture but only conserve it. – Arti Sharma, founder of Soch Aur Samwad
Ms. Sharma said water is an essential requirement. It is not possible to think of the food we eat without water. Our population is growing at a rapid pace and we are unrelently using water and at times, instead of saving, wasting it, she observed.
Continuing, she said, it is wrong on our part to think that it is the government’s responsbility to find ways and means to conserve water. It is actually our responsibility – no matter which sector we belong to, whether one is running an industry or one is a housemaker, it is everyone’s duty to save water.
Ms. Sharma spoke about the importance of water bodies and rivers and drew attention to the river valley civilisations of ancient times. All big cities over several millennia were built along major rivers, she said undescoring the importance of water. It is uinfortunate that we are wasting this precious resource.
Ms. Sharma cited the example of the drought affected region of California in the US, where she had the opportunity of staying for some time. She especially noted that in California, two types of piped water is being supplied to the citizens – one is potable water that’s fit for drinking and other other is untreated water thats used for watering the plants. Even the supply of non-potable water is rationed and days are fixed when one can water the plants there, she informed the audience.
Ms. Sharma focused attention on the use of a basic technology to save water and said special taps are being used in developed countries to ensure wate flows with such force that a very little volume can serve the purpose and this helps in saving water. Utilisation of water in the proper way is vey important, she emphasised.
Well-known conservationist, Meera Das said that more than two thousand years ago, the neighbouring Vidisha district had taken the lead in water harvesting. There are Buddhist archeological sites in this area depicting the progress that made in building reservoirs and structures to conserve water in ancient times, she said and gave the example of the fifth Century Ganga Devi idol associated with the Gupta period. This reflects their sensibilities with regard to the need to conserve water.
Professor at Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM) Dr. Madhu Verma threw light on special reservoirs that have been built to collect natural water from the catchment areas and supply it (without any treatment) as drinking water to the residents of New York City.
Dr Verma cited the example of China to underscore the importance it gives to preservation and conservation of biodiversity. She said that development projects are shelved if they threaten the biodoversity. She also focused attention towards some communities of Meghalaya State in India that do not interfere with the ecosystem.
Senior journalist and environmentalist, Abhilash Khandekar laid stress on the need for everybody to save water. He said that experts and a large section of the media has been raising the alarm about the water crisis and all connected environmental issues for a long time. It is important for people to realise that if they fail to act now, the future of humankind would be gravely threatened.
Lalit Shastri, Editor-in-Chief Newsroom24x7 and founder president of CREW, an NGO devoted to conservation of environment and Wildlife, who also addressed the gathering said it is important to have an understanding of the different factors responsible for depletion of forest cover, especially in the catchment of rivers and water bodies. NGOs working for environment should lobby for the cause of future generations at the decision, policy and law-making levels, he said and went on to underscore that such organisations should be ready to speak up what may be “politically incorrect” but is necessary for saving the forests, biodiversity and the future of not only humankind but all species and forms of life.
Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt General (Retired) Milan Naidu, spoke about the need to treat grey water for serving recreational and sporting purposes. He gave the example of the golf course at the Local Army area in Bhopal in this regard.
There was a special presentation on the “green building” constructed by the NGO – Eklavya – with locally available material and scrap procured from the Railways. This building has been designed in such a manner that it reduces the temeperature inside by 4 to 6 degrees. Its highwater mark is the especially built water harvesting tanks and the greay area treatment plant.
The audience had a special word of praise for a poem on water recited by Arti Agrawal.
School Kids – Mishti Sharma and Ishan Jatti, distributed seed balls to the participants on behalf of Purple Turtle with the message “Save Environment for Us”.
Shimla: With apple production greatly affected due to changing climate in Himachal Pradesh, apple farmers are taking to cultivation of vegetables and ‘low chill’ fruits like pomegranate and kiwi.
Hill farmers are steadily moving towards other options, particularly in low and mid altitude (1200-1800 meters) regions of Kullu, Shimla and Mandi districts. They are following inter-cropping in apple orchards with vegetable crops as well as low chill varieties at lower elevations (1000-1200 meters). Farmers are also taking to protected cultivation of vegetables and flowers in a big way. Apple farmers in Kullu valley are growing pomegranate, kiwi and vegetables such as tomato, peas, cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli.
Apples can be grown at altitudes 1500 to 2700 meters above mean sea level in the Himalayan range which provides 1000 to1600 hours of chilling necessary for production of good quality apples. As the region experiences warmer winters and erratic snowfall, the apple growing belt – known as apple line- is shifting to higher altitudes. Warmer winters in lower elevations has resulted into shifting of apple to higher elevations. In dry temperate regions of the state, increased temperature and early melting of snow since 1995 has shifted apple cultivation to higher reaches of Kinnaur (2200-2500 meters).
“Abnormal climatic factors during winters, flowering and fruit development stage have lowered apple productivity of the state,” said Prof S K Bhardwaj of Department of Environmental science, Y S Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, while speaking at a media workshop on climate change here.
He said apple productivity in the region has seen dropped at the rate of 0.183 tonnes per hectare every year during the period from 2005 to 2014. The overall drop in productivity is 9.405 tonnes per hectare in last twenty years.
Warming winters have reduced chilling hours required for apple production. Chill unit hours in Kullu region, for instance have decreased at the rate of 6.385 chill units per year and an overall decrease of 740.8 chill units in last thirty years (1986-2015). Less number of chilling hours results in delayed foliation, reduced fruit set and increased buttoning – all of which contribute to poor fruit quality.
“The highly suitable apple production areas are now restricted only to higher hills of Shimla, Kullu, Chamba, dry temperate zones of Kinnaur and Spiti areas. The moderately suitable areas have now become marginal for apple production in the state,” he added.
Another major cause of apple production taking a hit is increased incidence of hailstorms during the flowering and fruit setting stages. The hails accompanied by other variable weather factors during 1998-99 and 1999-2000 dropped the yields to the minimum. The
quality of the crop was affected during the stage of growth and development in 2004-2005.
In April 2015, 0.67 lakh hectares crop area was affected due to hailstorms and unseasonal rains in the state. Many villages of Theog, Jubbal and Kotkhai were lashed with heavy hail storm grounding the unripened apple fruits in the month of May 2017. In some places, farmers have started using anti-hail guns, buy their effectiveness is still in doubt.
“There is an urgent need to focus attention on studying impacts of climate change on growth development, yield and quality of horticultural crops. The focus should also be on developing adaptation technologies and quantifying mitigation potential of horticultural crops and their dissemination among farmers,” Prof Srivastava added.
Giving an overview of changing weather patterns in HP, Dr Manmohan Singh (IMD, Shimla) pointed out that monsoon season in HP is expanding but overall rainfall is on a decline. Most IMD weather stations are reporting increasing trend in temperature in HP and J & K in the past thirty years. Snowfall days in Srinagar and Shimla is showing a decreasing trend during the same period. Snowfall season in the state is shrinking with decreasing seasonal snowfall and snowfall days.
The workshop was organised by the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), in partnership with the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), GIZ and the Climate Change Cell of Himachal Pradesh. (India Science Wire)
Because temperatures in India’s biodiversity hotspot are on the rise
Dinesh C Sharma
Shillong: Sitting in the glass-and-concrete State Convention Centre in the capital of hilly state, Meghalaya, participants of a media workshop on climate change were feeling sweaty. The convention centre is not air-conditioned nor does it have ceiling fans. For the comfort of guests, some pedestal fans were plugged in.
Why are we sweating in Shillong? Asked state information technology minister Dr M Ampareen Lyngdoh. The question may sound strange for those who have read in tourist brochures and text books about the wettest places on the planet being in Meghalaya and about its round-the-year cool weather.
The answer to this question came in the form of a new study done by researchers from the Water and Climate Lab at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Gandhinagar. The study has shown that air temperature in the state is rising at the rate of 0.031 degree per year. The trend is consistent from 1981 to 2014, barring the years 1991 and 1992. This translates into 1 degree centigrade rise between 1981 and 2014, which is quite significant. Future projections indicate similar rise over next two decades.
The state has also been witnessing highly fluctuating frequencies of hot days, hot nights, cold days and cold nights. “The number of hot days and nights show an increasing trend while that of cold days and cold nights show a declining trend. These are indications of a consistently warming region,” pointed out lead author Dr Vimal Mishra while presenting results of the study commissioned by the state government. “The higher number of hot night frequencies is a matter of concern for the state.”
Based on historic and observed data as well as computer models, the study has projected changes over short-term (2013-2040), mid-term (2041-2070) and long-term (2071-2100) for the state. It is a high-resolution study in the sense that projections have been made for grids of 5 X5 km size, so as to help in vulnerability assessment for each grid and adaptation planning at local level.
Future projections show an increasing temperature rise under different scenarios. Under these projections, the rise in maximum temperature in Meghalaya in the long term ranges from 2.65 degree to 3.8 degree, while the rise in minimum temperature will be between 2 degree and 3.5 degree in the long term. The increase in temperature may result in higher number of extreme hot days and nights. Under the extreme scenario projection, the number of hot days could be as high as 100 a year. Similarly, there may be a decrease in extreme cold days and nights.
“The state has already seen a rise of temperature of 1 to 1.5 degree in the past three decades, and the projections point to a similar rise by 2040. If temperature in Meghalaya will rise by about 3 degree rise in a span of half a century, we don’t know what Meghalaya will be like in future – West Bengal or Assam?,” wondered Dr Mishra.
There will be changes in the rainfall patterns too in future. The central plateau region is projected to experience an increase in rainfall at a higher rate than the rest of the state. The occurrence of extreme rainfall events will also show an upward trend under various projected scenarios. “The West Khasi hills which already receive very high precipitation are projected to face even higher rise in precipitation,” Dr Mishra added.
The changing climate in Meghalaya, he said, would have widespread implications for forests, water resources, biodiversity, agriculture, livestock and human health. For instance, due to significant rise in temperature, forest fires may go up while extreme rainfall events will increase risk of landslides in high altitude areas causing siltration of water bodies downstream. The rise in temperature will also threaten endemic plant species many of which are already on the verge of extinction. Rainfed agriculture in the state will be adversely hit with crop yields and production declining. Higher temperature will also induce premature breaking of insects and pests.
“Meghalaya has some of the most vulnerable districts to current climate risks and long term climate change in the region,” pointed out Prof. N.H. Ravindranath of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. “Sectors like agriculture, forests, fisheries, horticulture are already subjected high climate risks currently and will be highly vulnerable to climate change risks in future. We need to prepare both incremental as well as transformational adaptation plans to make based on vulnerability assessments.”
The workshop was jointly organized by the Department of Science and Technology, Indian Himalayas Climate Adaptation Programme (IHCAP) and Centre for Media Studies. (India Science Wire)