Patna, March 23: Ignoring appeal and warnings against pruning or cutting down green trees to collect firewood for bonfires on Holi eve, hundreds of trees in Bihar have been badly damaged by thr people, particularly youths, in the name of an age-old tradition.
Hundreds of trees have been made soft targets for the Holika bonfires on Wednesday night that symbolise the destruction of evil. Trees have either been pruned or cut down across the state including in cities like Patna, Bhagalpur, Gaya, Darbhanga and Muzaffarpur.
Last week state forest department has appealed to the people to plant sapplings to celebrate the festival of colours instead of cutting down trees.
The principal chief conservator of forests, D.K. Shukla, said that people caught pruning or cutting green tree for the Holika bonfire would be arrested and jailed for harming the environment. "It is a warning to all those aiming to harm green trees for the Holika bonfire," he said.
According to another senior forest official, the law provides for six months to six years in jail for those cutting down green trees.
Ironically, the forest department has failed to create awareness as its appeal and warnings of punishment have made no impact on the ground.
"Pruned and chopped-off branches of green trees have been collected at hundreds of places in Patna and nearby areas alone, not to talk about entire state.Trees have been mindlessly harmed," Ranjeev, an environmental activist, said here.
Another green activist, Guddu Babaace, said: The trees are standing helpless. They can neither raise their voice nor seek justice after they are pruned or cut down in name of burning Holika."
Ranjeev said people hardly bother about forest laws. "I have no knowledge or information that any action has been taken in this matter."
"It is unfortunate and painful as usual every year ahead of Holi. The enforcing officials ignore the open violation of forest lawss," said Ranjeev, who has been working for decades for sustainable development in the state's flood-prone Kosi basin.
Undeterred by the official apathy, a group of school students have been creating awareness among the people against harming trees in the name of Holika bonfires. "We are trying hard through school-going children to convince the people, mainly youths in residential localities not to cut tree branches for Holika bonfires," Jaheeb Ajmal, who runs the Samar NGO here, said.
A.K. Ghosh, an environmental scientist here, said Holika is a symbol of burning something, particularly waste material, not green trees.
"People have no right to cut or prune trees for Holika," Ghosh said, adding: "It is high time people change their mindsets to save the environment. Activists should create awareness among the people," he said.
According to Hindu mythology, bonfires are lit on the eve of Holi to signify the destruction of evil.
Robert Athickal, who runs Tarumitra, a Patna-based organisation to protect and promote a healthy environment, said that there was a need to create awareness among people not to target trees to collect wood for bonfires.
"It is unfortunate that the government officials hardly initiate any move to stop people from pruning or cutting trees for bonfires," said Athickal.
"We must stand together to save trees when global warming is a reality," he said.
Till the 1970s, garbage was collected for the bonfires. "We never pruned trees or cut them. Now the situation is different. People seem to enjoy cutting tress for the bonfires," a senior citizen recalled.
Forest officials say Bihar lost most of its green cover when Jharkhand was carved out of it in 2000. Undivided Bihar had 17 percent forest cover thast is but now down to 10 percent.