Ramsar, a town in Iran shot in to fame in 1971, when a convention on a treaty for significant wetlands was signed by United Nation’s Inter-Governmental Panel there. This treaty was unique, as it is for saving a particular ecosystem of wetlands on this Planet. While going through the list of Ramsar sites of India, I suddenly realized that I have closely seen quite a few of them-for example, Chandra Tal (Himachal Pradesh), Renuka (Himachal Pradesh), Mansar-Suruinsar Lakes (J&K), Sambhar Lake (Rajasthan) etc. In addition to these, there is a Ramsar site in U.P. between Brijghat (Ghaziabad) to Narora (Bulandshahar) along an 85 km stretch of the Ganga River. Each site is unique in its own way.
The Ramsar site of U.P. is of significance for the state and hence being discussed here. About this site, the researchers of Botanical Survey of India have done quite a bit of research and have enumerated the flora present there. Interesting part is that at the southern end, that is at Narora an Atomic Power Plant (NAP) is located. It is mandatory for a an Atomic Power Plant to have a sanitized zone within a radius of 1.6 km from the plant, also known as the core area.
While the Brijghat-Narora Ramsar site hosts a sacred grove of significance, the core area of NAP boasts of a dense forest with a large variety of fauna. This forest planted at the time of the construction of NAP in the late eighties, now has a forest, which can put some of the best forested areas to shame, particularly in terms of fauna. After roaming through the dense forest of NAP, I began to think, why such a luxuriant flora in that forest? Immediate reaction is, because food is available in plenty. Carnivores need to prey upon herbivores-for which there is no dearth of food and the rest is taken care by the nature. But the question remains why and how such a thick density of fauna? The reason is simple-being under the protégé of the NAP, a high security of the forest is maintained, and there are tube-wells with switch rooms to switch on the pumps to fill the water holes. Thus, with the guarantee of food and water and above all poaching being out of question, the fauna is free to move about and carry its day to day activity. It is a sanctuary in true sense.
Our forest cover depletes mainly due to anthropogenic reasons. In U.P. the state of forests is pitiable; firstly the prime chunk of forest has gone to Uttarakhand after division of the state. Secondly, the urban flora, the good old trees that have witnessed the history had to be hacked for making wider roads. Gone are the tree lined avenues in the cities and also the avenues on some of the highways-we can have either wide roads or trees. Naturally trees had to be sacrificed. Yes the Government is planting trees in lieu of the hacked trees-but it takes 100 years for the type of the canopy those old guards offered. In 100 years the environment might go for the worse drastically. It is difficult to comment about that at present, but yes the consequences of removal of trees are certainly going to be bad.
We might be a secular country, but when it comes to religious beliefs we are quite firm about them and respect our religion plus other religions too. The sacred groves of our country are a part of that belief only. According to Arti Garg and Vineet Singh of the Botanical Survey of India, sacred grove is ‘a physically diverse patch of natural, primary forested enclosure of sacred trees and connected life-forms, revered by the endogamous clan for their supernatural association with religious or ominous attribute, or some alarming mythological anecdote, ascribed to a deity, devil or demon, who is strongly bond with the woods conserved informally over generations to uphold these beliefs.’ Call it belief or faith, the flora in such groves is there to stay. Perhaps this was the way our ancestors conserved the trees!
In the contemporary society where natural wealth is meant to be plundered, only two ways are possible to save the trees. Either place an army of security personnel to guard-as done in NAP, or the place is already marked as sacred.
A well preserved forest, sacred or otherwise is most sacred for the life. Those living in the synthetic, urban environment cannot imagine how the animals of the land and water and birds live in a harmony together in a forest. Of course they do kill their prey, but only when they need food. They do not kill just to boast about!
Within the Ramsar site of U.P., the Sidhwari sacred grove occupies about seven hectare area within the Ramsar site of U.P. along the Ganga River. This grove has a two hectare core area, which is comparable to the Sanctum Santorum of a temple and the remaining five hectare is a buffer zone. This sacred grove is at a distance of about eight km from NAP. The biggest draw of the place is the ‘Sidh Vriksha’-a ficus tree with a girth of ten meters. Arti and her co-researcher state that the grove is unique due to its location in the Upper Ganga wetland precinct. Due to firm belief of the people, this sacred grove remained a forbidden territory for any kind of developmental activity. That is how a rich diversity of flora and fauna thrived there.
It is an irony that the forest surrounding the sacred grove is in a poor health, despite it being a part of Ramsar site. Sidhwari Sacred grove has persisted and thrived because of lack of human interference. It is well established that the trees are the best sinks of Green House Gases. In addition they are microclimate controllers. They check the soil erosion. It may be noted that it takes 1000 years for soil to regrow in case it is removed from an area by natural or anthropogenic agencies.
Such sacred groves are fortunately ideal forest preserves and are an asset for the eco-system. Since the normal forests are being encroached upon/depleted at a fast rate, wish more sacred groves could be developed to keep the forest wealth intact! It is said better late than never-it is high time to respect the forests as sacred. If the advice is not seriously followed, we may see trees only in pictures. But then we may not be there to see them at all!
Image (c) Gettyimages.com