Shimla: Around 200 ex-servicemen have come together for a serious mission - greening the denuded hills of Himachal Pradesh by carrying out plantation drives and spreading awareness about rainwater harvesting.
They have been employed by the citizens` Territorial Army as part of its initiative to re-green the hills - it has deployed 100 ex-servicemen in each of the two eco task forces.
"The second task force, 133 Bravo Eco Task Force, was raised last month to carry out a plantation drive on the banks of the Beas river in Kullu and Mandi districts. It launched the drive July 26 and till date more than 14,000 saplings have been planted," Major A.K. Sangwan of the 133 Infantry Battalion, Territorial Army Dogra, Ecological Unit, said.
He said the task force aims to cover 150 to 200 hectares in both the districts every year and the plantation drive will continue for the next five years.
The Alfa Eco Task Force has already scripted a success story by planting 400,000 saplings on around 400 hectares of barren land on the Satluj river banks in Mandi, Bilaspur and Shimla districts in the past four years.
Sangwan said the area converted into a green patch falls in the catchment area of the 800-MW Kol hydropower project. Now the catchment area of the 126-MW Larji hydropower project is being treated.
Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal said after the success of the eco task force in the Kol dam catchments, the government has decided to start the plantation drive in other areas where greenery is being lost due to development projects.
"We are considering establishing more such battalions to treat denuded areas under CAT (catchment area treatment) plan," said Dhumal, who also holds the forest portfolio.
Additional Principal Chief Conservator (Forests) Jasjit Singh Walia, who is associated with the project, said the government is providing funds to the eco task forces through the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA).
The state forest department is assisting the task force in providing saplings, technical know-how and backup support.
"The success rate of the survival of saplings planted by the ex-servicemen is quite high as they spend most of their time nurturing the plants," he added.
Besides planting saplings, the task forces also help educate people about the importance of conserving flora and fauna and harvesting rainwater.
Mohan Verma, a farmer in a village near Mandi town, said: "The task force is assisting local villagers in setting up rainwater harvesting structures. A number of structures have been built that not only provide water to the livestock but also help irrigate fields."
Himachal Pradesh is a storehouse of biodiversity and is most vulnerable to climate change as the Himalayan glaciers have been retreating due to global warming.
According to a 2005 report published by the Forest Survey of India, the hill state has 14,752 sq km of forest area, 1,097 sq km of which is very densely forested.