World Environment Day had just been formed in 1973, but there was someone in whom the spark of environmental protection had already been awakened, he had also understood all these insecurities of the future. He also knew that this work is difficult, but his passion gave him that name in the field of environmental protection, which has become an example for the people of that area today. This campaign of environmental protection gave him the name “Junglee”. Although it may seem like a character in Munshi Premchand’s novel, but this character is not related to any story but to real life. Jagat Singh Chowdhary, an ex-BSF soldier from Rudra Prayag in Uttarakhand, was awarded this unusual nickname at an environmental seminar in 1993 for converting 1.5 hectares of barren land into a thriving agro-forest.
The story of this one-man army who worked tirelessly for environmental protection for more than 40 years is very inspiring. It all started in 1973 when Jagat Singh Chowdhary, a BSF jawan, returned to his native village Kot Malla for a holiday. One evening, he received news that a village woman had fallen from a mountain while trekking to collect fodder and died due to fatal injuries.
This incident kept Chowdhary awake the whole night. They realized that this tragedy was not new to Kot Malla and its surrounding villages, as local women had to climb dangerous heights to collect fodder and fuel wood. The reason for which was the deforestation over the years and the decline of the forests around the villages.
Moved by this plight, the young soldier spent the rest of his leave trying to find ways to reduce the drudgery that was part of every local woman’s daily routine. Chowdhary had inherited a stony, rocky piece of land from his father and decided to use it to cultivate plants that provided food, fodder and fuel.
He started clearing the barren area of weeds and rocks. Since water was not available near the land, he used to carry water pots on his shoulders for 3 km daily to irrigate the land. Whenever he came home during his break from his job, he continued to grow the forests.
In 1980, Choudhary retired from the BSF and devoted all his time to forest development. Using his pension money, he planted around 56 species of trees on the land. This ranged from conifers (such as deodar and oak) and indigenous grasses (such as namcha and telia) to flowers, climbers and rare medicinal herbs. He also encouraged the cultivation of vegetables, tubers, pulses and spices to help the local people earn a livelihood by selling them.
Under Chaudhary’s careful nurturing and tutelage, a beautiful agroforest soon sprung up on that barren land. In addition to improving the microclimate and raising the area’s water table, the forest also solved the problem of village women going on long, arduous treks to collect fuel wood and fodder.
Interestingly, Chowdhury’s forest was teeming with wildlife due to its rich biodiversity, unlike the monoculture deodar plantations of the Forest Department in the area. In their forest, species as diverse as oak, betel, olive and cane (not grown elsewhere in Uttarakhand) all grow together!
Inspired by Chaudhary’s dedication and enthusiasm towards the project, many villagers have joined the effort or started similar projects of their own. Following the example set by the retired soldier, he introduced mixed agro-forestry on his land, increasing the income of the families while restoring the ecological balance in the area.
In 1993, nearly two decades after the Chowdhurys began work on their land, IAS officer R.S. Tolia surveyed the ‘jungle of the wild’. Impressed by the impact Tolia saw, Tolia issued a circular recommending that this become a model for agroforestry across Uttarakhand. Chowdhary started being invited to give lectures in schools and colleges. Chowdhary soon received several accolades, including the ‘Him Gaurav’, ‘Indira Gandhi Vrikshamitra’ and ‘Paryavaran Premi’ awards. At the same time, he has also been made a special advisor in the Forestation and Eco Development Board of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Along with this, he has also been made the brand ambassador of the Forest Department of Uttarakhand.
In 2002, Choudhary was honored by the Governor of Uttarakhand for his outstanding work in the field of nature conservation. However, the ex-serviceman decided to gift the entire prize money to the unemployed youth of his village. In 2007, he was invited by HNB Garhwal University to develop a model agroforest at Srinagar campus. He successfully completed this project in 2010.
On the occasion of Environment Day on June 5, China Media Group’s reporter talked to Jagat Singh Chaudhary, he believes that to solve the global climate change problem, everyone has to start from their home, make their homes eco-friendly. Will have to be friendly. On the announcement of China and India becoming carbon neutral countries by 2060 and 2070 respectively, Chaudhary says that although this path is full of difficulties and challenges, but with each other’s cooperation, we have the ability to achieve this goal. Now 70, the agile Chowdhary has no plans of giving up his exemplary work anytime soon. His son, Dev, has a degree in Environmental Science and has worked with his father towards ensuring a greener and better future for all.
(Divya Pandey – China Media Group, Beijing)
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