By Salonika Neupane / Photos: Jalpesh Mehta (Empower Foundation) via Let India Breathe
Deforestation has been a major contributing factor towards environmental problems. Trees, in addition to providing oxygen, also sequester carbon. By cutting down trees, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases sharply, contributing to the problem of greenhouse effect.
Despite these often irrevocable damages, a 2015 study estimates that a total of 46% of trees have been felled since humans began cutting down trees. Deforestation often occurs due to commercial logging, or to turn the forest land for agricultural purposes (as is the case with the current deforestation in Amazon rainforest). In developing countries, a major cause of deforestation is the supposed development projects. These projects are often masked as an essential part of development, and any group opposing these projects are labeled “anti-development”, which makes it even more difficult for people to begin to question the necessity of the projects. Those who do resist have to spend valuable time and energy fighting off these labels.
In India and Nepal, two “development” projects have been proposed that require felling of trees. In Mumbai, over 2600 trees in the Aarey area are to be felled to build a car shed (parking garage) for the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC). Aarey is a lively forest with a thriving natural community (aka ecosystem). Yet, Bombay High Court has failed to acknowledge Aarey as a forest. Meanwhile in Nepal, the ring road (encircling the Kathmandu valley) is set for its second phase of road expansion that is going to cut more than 2000 trees.
Both of the projects have been presented as a necessity for transportation of local people. But the general news fail to address some important facts. For example, in Mumbai, the Aarey forest is being cut down for a car shed of MMRC, not for the railways itself. Railways may play a significant role for the general public of Mumbai, but the car shed does not. On top of that, the MMRC is said to plant 100 times more trees than they cut down. Granting the naiveté of believing in that promise, saplings cannot replace an entire natural community.
Similarly, the road expansion of ring road is sold out as a magical solution to the problem of overcrowded traffic in Kathmandu. None of the residents in Kathmandu would debate that overcrowding of traffic is not a problem in Kathmandu. Yet, time and again it has been demonstrated that road expansions are only a temporary solution to the problem. Within a few years, the number of private vehicles also rise, culminating in the problem of overcrowded traffic of similar, if not worse, intensity. Not to mention, the initial phase of road expansion has caused a sharp increase in the number of road accidents in Kathmandu, causing the recently expanded area to be called the “death trap”.
The deforestation has not gone unnoticed in both of the cities. Environmental groups and local people have both protested against both of these. The intensity of public support for protest is stronger in Mumbai than in Kathmandu, with politicians and celebrities coming up against the proposed deforestation in Mumbai.
Yet, deforestation in both of these areas have begun despite the protests. After the Bombay High Court permitted the project to continue on Friday, MMRC workers began to cut down trees in the middle of the night. The time was chosen so that protesters would not be able to protect the forest. The next day, cutting down trees continued with police protection despite the protests. Many of the activists were arrested. On Monday, the Supreme Court of India issued a stay order in the tree-felling, but over 2100 trees have already been cut.
In Kathmandu, cutting down trees began during a major festival of the country. Kathmandu, being the capital, is populated with many immigrants from all over the country. During this time, most return to their natal homes to celebrate the biggest festival of the year with their family and relatives. As a result, the valley is relatively sparsely populated. It was during this opportunistic period that felling of trees began.
Protests against deforestation has been rising globally, which may have had an influence in the protests in Mumbai and Kathmandu as well. The Climate Strike movements initiated by Greta Thunberg has helped spark a discussion against climate change in general. Thus, people have become more aware regarding environmental issues. Similarly, people across the world have been opposing the plan for the Brazilian government to allow agricultural industry to clear parts of the rainforest. It has helped bring attention to the significance of forests. Indigenous people have always resisted against the felling of trees. In some cases, indigenous communities have taken matters into their own hands to prevent illegal logging.
Effective strategies often need to address the specific nature of the problems within each context. While the two problems (in Mumbai and Kathmandu) appear similar, there are some major differences. Protests in Mumbai has been able to attract a very high number of supporters, which unfortunately is not the case in Kathmandu. With an exception of environmental groups and a minority of people, it seems the general public have accepted roads expansion as a miraculous cure to the problem of overcrowding of traffic.
As such, the two problems also require different strategies for action. For the Aarey conversation, what is required now is to provide tools to the protesters, like legal support. For the people in Kathmandu, a more basic approach is required: to get the people to question the necessity and fruitfulness of the road expansion in the first place.
Choudhary, Amit Anand, & Mehta, Manthan K. (2019, October 8). SC stays tree-felling at Aarey till October 21, but 98% already cut. Published in The Times of India. Accessed from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/sc-stays-tree-felling-at-aarey-till-october-21-but-98-already-cut/articleshow/71485076.cms
Crowther, T. W. et al. (2015). Mapping tree density at a global scale. Nature, 525, 201-205. Abstract available at https://www.nature.com/articles/nature14967
Ojha, Anup. (2018, May 26) Ring Road part ‘death trap’. Published in The Kathmandu Post. Accessed from https://kathmandupost.com/national/2018/05/26/ring-road-part-death-trap