Peren is not alone

For many decades, the vast (but now dwindling) green cover of forest in Peren district has played generous host to hunters and timber traders alike. It wasn’t even an open secret and everybody was in the know. Aside from the wide expanse of fertile plains that earned the district its ‘Rice bowl of Nagaland’ sobriquet, Peren has always been known for the timber trading and the hunting activities carried out by those living in as well as outside the district. In fact, many of our politicians, armed group leaders and civil society organisation leaders are rumoured to have amassed a major portion of their wealth by selling timbers found in the forest of Peren. Other than its vast green cover, the district’s proximity to Dimapur (still the State’s commercial nerve centre) has contributed to the booming of the timber trade for decades. But then something snapped. The civil society organisations of Peren decided to ban the movement of unprocessed timber from the district to other districts. And in retaliation, in early May, the Nagaland Timber Traders’ Union imposed an economic blockade on two main Dimapur-Peren routes, especially on timber and forest produce emanating from the district. Confrontation took place and the blockade was called off. In the aftermath, multiple Peren-based organisations ~ especially, the student bodies ~ have come out in support of the ban. Their chief reason, as their statements show, is environmental concern. The latest of such expression of concern came from the Nkio Students’ Union yesterday when they issued a press release announcing its decision to clamp a blanket ban on all illegal timber operations and hunting of wildlife, especially for commercial purposes within its territorial jurisdiction. According to the Union, every timber operation carried out under Nkio jurisdiction was undisputedly illegal. Tellingly, it regretted that for many years ~ because of ignorance of the village authority and laxity of the Department concerned in executing their work and duty ~ the invaluable forest cover and natural vegetation have been disfigured and destroyed enormously. The Union then asserted that it won’t allow even a single naturally-grown tree to be felled down illegally anymore. Unfortunately, Peren is merely a case in point. Activities that have been confirmed as detrimental to our environment have been, and are being, allowed to go on unabated in the State. For instance, open-cast coal mining is practiced openly across Nagaland with no objection from anywhere. Such forms of mining involve moving a lot of earth which results in widespread destruction of the surrounding vegetation and wildlife. And the hills and mountainous regions of Nagaland are prone to landslides, especially during the monsoon season; such unregulated activities only serve to enhance the possibilities of natural disasters in the form of landslides. Here in Dimapur, the business of excavating river beds for pebbles continues to flourish ~ some years ago, when a bridge collapsed, authorities had cited this activity as one of the causes. At the risk of indulging in sweeping generalisation, these are nothing but consequences of prioritising profits over the environment. When environmental issues have hogged the limelight and have taken centre stage on global platforms, those running such business or practices as well as Government agencies should be wary of the consequences of being reckless with the environment. At least the students are raising their voices. The results of disregard are made clear by nature itself by wreaking havoc. Nagaland barely has anything resembling sound credentials concerning adherence to environmental standards. Whether it is about excavating river beds for their sand or pebbles or the complete decimation of hills to extract coal and timer, they have always been at the cost of environmental destruction. For so long, this has been chiefly because those involved in the trade know very well that the authorities can be manoeuvred as per their will. And as long as this continues, issues will be raised and quietly forgotten.