Neglected ever since the days India’s first national forest policy, starting with the British Raj, these treeless, timber-free landscapes have been erroneously considered as wastelands. The Draft National Forest Policy 2018 also misses an opportunity to give importance to grasslands.
The Great Indian Bustard is classified as “critically endangered”–just short of extinction–in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. Like the tiger, the bustard is supposed to be protected as a “schedule I species”–endangered, threatened or of special concern–under India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. But the bustard isn’t as well known as the tiger, and it lives in areas where its life is in growing conflict with human development. The main threat to the bustard comes from an ironic source: Renewable energy.
The fields are silvery white with raw salt crusts in the vicinity of Nawa, a small town on the northwestern banks of Sambhar lake, India’s largest inland lake. Nawa lies about 90 kilometres east of Jaipur. Also an extensive saline wetland and a Ramsar site, the blinding white salt flats stretch as far as one can see. The place is a key wintering area for thousands of pink flamingos and other migratory birds from northern Asia and Siberia.
In the early 1990s, at the end of a drought that stretched over three years, an 18-year-old Deva Singh took up work at a nearby sandstone mine. He was grateful for the Rs 15 a day it paid because there was no other work in his primarily agricultural village. Now 42, Singh has been diagnosed with silicosis, a disease caused by fine silica dust released from mineral mining operations, for which there is no cure.
Many farmers in India, the world’s top coconut producing country, have successfully introduced coconut farming in arid regions to meet growing demand and to boost earnings.