Sudhir Kumar Sharma, who took over as the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Government of Uttar Pradesh, recently is an experienced conservator with a demonstrated history of working in the environmental services industry. A post-graduate from Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy, he has earlier worked as Director, Forestry Training Institute, Uttar Pradesh, and Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, UP Forest Corporation. The soft-spoken man with a vast repository of knowledge spoke to Tree Take about his stint as a forester, the challenges ahead and the priorities on his list after assuming the top post in the forest service of the state...
Q: How would you describe your journey as a forest officer?
My journey in the forest service has been very interesting, but at the same time, wrought with difficulties. In over three decades, I have seen many different dimensions of service: Conflicts with mafia, employees working in tough terrain and special or difficult situations, problems of their families etc. Over- seeing all this, managing all this and working for conservation of forests and wildlife at the same time is something that has given immense satisfaction. Whether it is wildlife and forest conservation, tree plantation or involving public participation, I would say it is a vast and varied field and I have enjoyed my work to the full. One particular incident that I recall dates back to 1993, during my first posting as DFO. About 20 acres of prime forest land in Madarhawa (Balrampur district) had been encroached upon. The foresters went to free it of encroachments and succeeded in removing the encroachers but some influential people of the area with vested interest attacked us. The dispute escalated and there was firing from both sides, in which some people sustained injuries. Both parties lodged cross-FIRs. However, 13 of my colleagues and I were booked under Section 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code. The case went on for 14 years, till it was finally dropped in 2007. For us it was like a 14-year ‘vanvaas’ (exile). After taking over as PCCF, I went to visit the place recently. We walked 12-13 kilometres through the lush green forest over the same 20 acre stretch of land. I could not help but feel that our efforts had borne fruit. Had we not stood our ground that day, the beautiful green belt would have been encroached upon and commercialised. We did face difficulties, but managed to save the prime forest land. Such things are bound to give one immense self-satisfaction.
Q. What do you think are the major challenges before you and the priorities that you need to take up first?
The entire world today is facing climate change. The reason, as we all know, is dwindling vegetation cover. It is a major challenge to increase the green cover while facing the pressures of development and population increase. Also, the recent census has shown that tiger count in the state is steadily going up. Naturally, the same goes for other animals. At the same time, human population is increasing too. So a prime task is to prevent human-animal conflicts, particularly in fringe areas, ensuring that the two stay separate.
Q: How do you plan to tackle man-animal conflicts, especially in view of the recent leopard attacks in Bijnor?
Earlier, there were few habitations close to villages. Now, with villages sprawling, gap between forests and human habitat is constantly decreasing. Consequently, humans and animals venture into each other’s territory. Cropping pattern also contributes to this. For instance, in Bijnor, 60 to 70% agriculture area is under cane farming and fields sometimes stretch right up to human habitations, even houses. This is a risk factor as cane fields offer a perfect hiding place to big cats, with a semblance of natural habitat and farmers going to their fields are prone to attacks. In coordination with other departments, we are making efforts for a change in the cropping pattern. We are experimenting with alternate cropping in Bahraich with the help of an NGO. If farmers go in for crop diversification, animal forays in human habitats can be reduced. Since the forest area is under pressure, in some places, for example in Pilibhit, Bahraich and Lakhimpur, we are also putting in place physical barriers like solar fencing, which delivers a 'very light shock' to the animal trying to cross over, just enough to repel him. Chain linking to fence off sensitive areas also aims to keep wild animals and humans separated.
Q: How do you plan to better manage and increase bio-diversity?
Needless to state, bio-diversity needs protection. We are growing practically all species of trees, shrubs and herbs and establishing nurseries for this. We are also setting up bio-diversity parks and trying to re-introduce all those species which are believed to be extinct.
Q: Any plan to tackle bird/animal trafficking? The Nakkhas Market in Lucknow is still doing roaring bird trade.
Raids on Nakkhas bird traders are conducted from time to time. The offenders are caught and the avians released. But I would like to point out that awareness is needed among people too. They should know that permission is required to keep all birds, whether foreign or native and that it is illegal to cage birds sans this permission.
Q: Any message to our readers?
My message is just this: Awareness is very important. For instance, we keep telling people in fringe areas of forests to not venture out alone early morning or late at night, but they do not pay any attention. How can the forest department, with its limited resources, provide protection to everyone at all times? Self-restraint is a must.
Q: What is your advice to the urban populace that wishes to contribute to biosphere growth?
Cities are often thought of as concrete jungles, but they, too, can contribute to the development and conservation of healthy ecosystems. In fact, conserving urban biodiversity is important not only for birds and animals but more so for humans. People in cities can set up, develop and protect green areas in their surroundings, like parks and gardens. They can create green roofs and balconies. This will support pollinators and birds etc. They can also put out water and birdseed for sparrows and other native species and provide nesting spaces. In this way, they can help foster green and healthy habitats for species living in urban areas.