The story of a principled chief conservator of forests in Bastar, Chhattisgarh

By Madhu Ramnath on Feb. 21, 2014 in Environment and Ecology

While the forest department has been busy working forests for timber, a single man in Bastar holds hope for the many villages that have lost their natural forests.

Over the last decade or more, the mere mention of Bastar has evoked stereotypical responses. Most people – those who are concerned or pretend to be so – ask me whether “things” are any better there. When I tell them that nothing has improved, that matters are perhaps worse, the conversation peters out. Anyone who knows that there is unrest in a large part of India – the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs lists 33 districts as naxal-affected in Central India, 7 of them in Chhattisgarh – should wonder why there is so little news from there.National newspapers rarely mention anything from Chhattisgarh except the sporadic “encounter” or “blast”, the periodic allocation of coal blocks to companies or, at another level, the efficiency of the Bharatiya Janata Partyʼs approach to governance.
The usual words and phrases linked to Bastar, in alphabetical order, are: abuse, ambushed, atrocities, attack, beheaded, BSF, burnt, camp, combing operations, Communist, CRPF, dense jungles, destroyed, flushed out, human rights, infested, Jungle Warfare College, kidnapped, killed, land mines, Mahendra Karma, Naga Battalion, Operation Green Hunt, police, raped, Salwa Judum, surrounded, thana, and so on. Why would anybody, other than the BBC, Médecins Sans Frontières or the UN, want to be there? And is it not strange that they are not there anymore? It is in the context of this region –which evokes dejection, fear and loss of faith for any citizen who seeks to know what is actually going on – that the village described below is located. It is situated in the Bakawand block of Bastar district, about 45 km north-east from Jagdalpur, the district headquarters.

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