For Rabindranath Tagore, the first stage of his realisation was through a feeling of intimacy with nature - ‘an intimate feeling of companionship with the trees and clouds.’ A similar feeling of intimacy with nature is what prompted C K Karunakaran, a former Chief Conservator of Forests, to pen as many as 16 books on forestry and allied subjects.
Karunakaran, nearing his eightieth birthday, has come up with a new book, titled ‘The Ailing Forests of Kerala’. The book, is published by the National Book Trust.
The book traces forests from millions of years ago even before man came into existence. “The flowering plants are thought to have appeared on earth about a 100 million years ago. In comparison, man evolved just a million years ago. At that time, the land that can now be identified as India had thick dense forests, except in Rajasthan and parts of Punjab, which lay buried under a swamp,” says the book. This was before the Himalayas.
During the long stone age, man was a savage, had no fixed habitation and could not produce his food. He collected what nature gave him - tubers and fruits. Then he learnt to catch fish and hunt wild animals. Then came the tools.
Food collection started giving way to food production and domestication of animals. He began to build houses from resources found in nature. Yet, the forests that he lived in were relatively undisturbed. Man was only conscious of his need, not his greed.
The love for nature that Karunakaran had made him follow the shrinking forests right from the time man started his quest for growth, development and progress. “In pre-historic days, the forests extended over the entire country. Paleo-botanical evidence testifies to the fact that there were dense forests in India in Permian period, 250 million years ago,” says Karunakaran, who resides at Vazhuthacaud.
“With cultivation came clearing of forest land for agricultural purposes, and the exploitation of forests continued without any moves for regenerating the forests,” he adds. When the need for regeneration of woods was recognised, the forest departments originated. Karunakaran takes his reader along to places of large-scale forest clearance, places where forests were converted to plantations, the National Afforestation Programme through forest development agencies, areas of large-scale encroachments which put the figures of encroachments in Kerala as a humongous 7,290 hectares, stories of forest fire, illicit felling, ganja cultivation, forestry research, forestry education, National Forest Policies, the different forest types and wildlife to the current status of forests.
“The forests of India, irrespective of the type of forest and regions, are in a degraded state, the extent of degradation varying according to the interference. An integrated approach is essential for arresting the degradational tendencies and to improve the status of the forests,” says Karunakaran, who considers grazing and fire as the twin evils damaging forests.
By integrated approach, this former forest officer has outlined a number of elements to be included - boundary demarcation, protection from fire and grazing, raising fuel wood trees outside forest areas, ban on collection of small timber, restriction on collection of non-timber forest products and allied activities inside deep forests, measures for arresting soil erosion, enrichment of natural vegetation and empowerment of village community.
Beyond these, Karunakaran has also detailed the role of the Forest staff, ways and means to improve the facilities extended to the ground staff, training of officers, role of non-governmental organisations and even that of the media to improve the status of forests in the country.