Free From School
By Rahul Alvares
Public Domain Books
Chapter 13: Surveying a Forest
The summer vacation that year was great fun. My cousins from Belgaum arrived on schedule and since no one had Board exams that year the holiday season began in the first week of April itself. We would enjoy two whole months of the sea, swimming as often as we could in the river that joins the sea at Baga.
One morning in May my dad asked me whether I’d like to participate in a project that the Goa Foundation, an environment organisation of which my dad is Executive Secretary, was organising for college students. I agreed. The project turned out to be field visits to the forests in Betim in order to identify which areas were still forest, which areas had been cut down and by whom, which projects/constructions had come up, and so on. The two students who had opted for this project were Stephen and Jerry, both from St. Xavier’s College, Mapusa doing their graduation degree. I joined the team as an extra.
On the morning of the 20th of May, Dad and I set out in the car for Betim. On the way we picked up Stephen and Jerry. Dad showed us the different spots in and around the area he wanted us to cover and then left.
Steven was the leader of the team. He had obviously been briefed by Dad on how we were to proceed for he soon took out a note book and started writing notes. I took my notebook and wrote down some names of birds. Stephen said that just in case anybody questioned us, we were to say we were birdwatchers!
We found two illegal houses in the middle of the forest and a huge clearing made by cutting a lot of big trees. The trees appeared to be cut with the use of an electric saw and tar was smeared on top of them to prevent further growth. Many logs were thrown nearby. It was a tiring task and being the month of May, it was extremely hot and my shoes had begun cooking my poor feet. Even if we saw a small path, Steven would insist we go to the end. Jerry would sometimes complain, “Steven who the hell do you think will go down there, in that inaccessible valley, to cut trees?” But Steven was stubborn and would retort, “Jerry if we don’t go down there we will have it on our conscience that there was a path which we could have checked out but didn’t.” So we trudged down each and every pathway we saw, howsoever narrow and unused it appeared to be.
On the second day, I went on my bicycle to Betim. We continued and we found another two illegal houses and a big tree cut, on the hill. This tree was also smeared with tar. The exercise usually took the whole morning and we would call it a day by about 2 p.m. or so.
On the third day, my Dad and my cousin Luke joined us. We showed my father the different spots we had visited, the places where trees were cut and the illegal houses. Dad had brought along a camera which he gave to Stephen to take photographs of the different patches of forest, the felling and the constructions. In some areas we found that fire had been set to the area after the trees were cut and this had destroyed the scrub bushes as well.
I was glad that the fourth day would be the last, since by now I was quite tired of this assignment. I had a lot of thorn pricks all over my body and they had become little itchy swellings. My feet were also sore and the heat was killing. But I carried on, as the project was near completion. On the hill we found a lot of houses, several of them illegal, coming up in the forest. We also found clear-felled plots with barbed wire fences around.
My part of the assignment was over that day and I received a small stipend for my work from the Goa Foundation. Steven and Jerry later prepared the project report with photographs and write-up. The report was submitted by the Foundation to the Forest Department. The department sent an officer to investigate the matter and also issued orders not to allow felling or constructions in the area.