Budh Singh’s Tree


Commentary: Bittu Sahgal

Budh Singh’s Tree

June 2010: Meet Budh Singh, an Ahir cowherd. If he is lucky he will be contracted to stand watch all day, 20 m. above the ground, to give park authorities an early fire warning. For his 12 hour service he will be paid about Rs. 100 per day. And that often is all that keeps hunger at bay for his family. He gets no meal allowance. No subsidised transport. No gratuity. No medical benefits. No pension.


A thin sheet protects him from the blazing sun, a bundle of sticks fashioned into a platform keeps him from plummetting to the ground. He survives on dry rations and a gourd of water, but maintains a lonely vigil to keep our most precious forests from going up in smoke.

As global mean temperatures rise and cause soil moisture to evaporate, his job becomes ever more difficult… more crucial. Every tree in the forests he cares for is a store house of carbon – the same carbon that world leaders say “must not reach the atmosphere”. In fact they plan to travel all the way to Cancun, Mexico later this year to find ways to decarbonise our atmosphere.  Yet, no politician in any real position of power in India recognises, or respects Budh Singh’s contribution to the climate battles ahead. This is why over 20 per cent of all the greenhouse gas emissions originating from India can be laid at the doorstep of ecosystem destruction.

So. While our nation’s advisors scratch for ways to produce clean energy, gassify coal, and poison us with prohibitively expensive nuclear waste, they might find it more profitable to ask for Budh Singh for a leg up so they can climb atop his tree, and take a 360 degree look around at the clear-as-day solution to climate change that keeps eluding them. Sightless and visionless, our technocrats, bureaucrats and economists can, tragically, neither see the forest, nor Budh Singh’s tree, where Prerna Singh Bindra found him perched one summer morning, protecting the Kanha Tiger Reserve as though his life depended on it.


Sanctuary Asia



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