Save The Desert

   ...before they vanish from this planet...

Desert Facts

Green Revolution

Most parts of the state of Rajasthan is a barren or desolate area with minimum rainfall. The casual rainfall is sometimes insufficient to wet the floor and vapors before it reaches the extremely hot sand. The inhabitants of deserts do not see rains for generations and therefore there are myths, stories and misconception about the rains. The rain clouds are ranked as ‘God’ and are often worshipped in Rajasthan. The inhabitants of Thar Desert in India had not seen the rainfall for ages till the famous Pokhran Nuclear Blasts took place, which made India a Nuclear Power in 1974. Sourcing of Water is costly as well as difficult and provision of drinking water for human beings and animals is a priority over its agricultural use. The Indira Gandhi canal, popularly known as Rajasthan canal provides irrigation to the adjoining areas of arid western districts of Bikaner and Jaisalmer. The human efforts, the greed and the involvement of the riches and influential land grabbers have worked ‘tirelessly’ to project the area as green area and thus succeeding in increasing the land prices many folds. Such sincerity is not visible in providing drinking water both to the human being as well as animals.

Side Effects of Greening Deserts

The so called ‘Green Revolution’ in the state of Rajasthan has been carried out at the cost of deserts, its heritage and the natural instincts. We are ignoring a fact that the deserts cannot be build or re-built. By greening the area we are destructing the nature. The desert is a paradise on earth and needs protection in the same way as required by trees, rivers, hills and the ancient temples, palaces, forts and other structures. In the process of greening the area we are forgetting the basic fact that the desert has rich reserves of minerals, metals as well as Oil and Gases. Instead of exploring these areas we are concentrating on agriculture and crops. Are we doing this as a hidden agenda and on directions of rich countries who want India to be ever dependent on them for oil and gases? To save the rich culture and ecology of one state and maintain an ecological balance in the sub-continent, India has to stand united as one country. The shortfall in foodgrains can be compensated by the neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, who have bumper crop always and the Government’s resources of storing the same fall short, resulting into a large scale pilferage, theft and wastage, including the eating away by the mice population. The comparison with Israel, a self dependent desert country needs to be clogged as Israel is a small country, in crisis always and does not have other states to support it. Furthermore, the water in the desert used for irrigation leaves contents of salt making it unfit for next crops, thus defeating the basic idea and intention behind it. The greening spree and the immediate lucrative benefits to the farmers have practically killed the traditional vegetation and crops of Rajasthan. The prices of the traditional dry vegetable have skyrocketed and are out of the reach of general public as evident from the chart below. The Green revolution in the limited form can be welcomed but not at the cost of natural, traditional, and cultural values of the state, particularly in view of the fact while one can force cultivation of rice in Rajasthan with human efforts and scientific advancements, the natural Sand Dunes cannot be found or created in the state of Uttar Pradesh or any other agriculturally rich state.

The Hard Facts

The author Rajesh Kumar Ranga, a Chartered Accountant / Company Secretary by profession and a resident of one of the desert cities of India, settled in New Delhi, the capital city of India has been a regular visitor of the deserts and has an immense love for them. Over the years the disappearance of Sand Dunes and the desert in the name of urbanization, farming and industrialization is being witnessed. There used to be a time, not so long ago, when the desert and Sand Dunes were at the doorstep of the cities of Rajasthan. The roads, railway tracks and other approaches to even the big and prosperous cities of Rajasthan used to be blocked by Sand Dunes, which had to be manually removed to pave way for vehicles. This was the nature in the original, pure and virgin form. It had heart, soul, conscience, love and emotion in it. What we see today is reverse of it. The grand buildings, apartments, amusement parks, hotels, restaurants and farms have come up on the desert land. We have not left nature in its prized form to enjoy but have chosen to destruct, trash, humiliate, spoil and abuse it. All this is done to meet our greed to earn and make money. The skill of making fast money by changing the ‘use of land’ hitherto focused in the metros and big cities, is now getting attention in the villages too. Some of the pertinent questions which has answers available within us are—

  • Can we build or re-build deserts? Isn’t the destruction of nature irreversible?
  • Who has given us the right to destroy the important landmarks given by the nature?
  • Have we run out of places to destroy?
  • Should we obliterate the magic of desert and ruin this precious jewel of earth?
  • Isn’t the desert a paradise on earth? If we can attempt to protect trees, hills, greenery and manmade structures, shouldn’t we do something to protect the desert?
  • What are we leaving for our next generations in legacy? To see a sand dune will they be required to visit South Africa or a Middle East country?
  • Aren’t we assassinating our rich heritage, traditions, ethnicity and culture?
  • Are we aware of the fact that the desert land has rich source and reserves of priceless metals and minerals beneath it?
  • Has enough been done in the field of oil exploration? Desert countries like Saudi Arabia became prosperous after making genuine efforts in this direction.
  • Is it essentially required for a desert state to be self dependent for food grains. To save the rich culture and ecology of one state and maintain an ecological balance in the sub-continent, can’t India as a country stand united?
  • Isn’t the desert of Rajasthan a unique feature for our country and can attract number of tourists all over?
  • Are you aware that the water in the desert used for irrigation leaves contents of salt making it unfit for next crops?
  • Are you aware that the builder mafias and land grabbers have already paved their way in to the desert land and that they have no love or respect for the desert?
  • Can’t the desert provide alternate employment through Tourism, Oil exploration, discovering and utilizing sources of Metals and Minerals in place of exhaustive farming, large scaled unwarranted construction and rapid industrialization?
  • Are you aware of the fact that in the Industrial zones developed by the Government on desert, no major industries have come up and the plots remain barren and unutilized?
  • Are you aware that the on account of Government apathy and entry of land grabbers the desert vegetables like……. which were moderately priced earlier are scarcely available and are outside the purchasing power of a common man?
  • A scarce and precious commodity like water is extensively used in building and farming activities, shouldn’t that necessary be preserved for drinking purposes for human beings and cattles?
The answers to the aforesaid questions lie within our heart. The basic question is whether we are proud of or ashamed of our own desert.

Shrinking Deserts---Vanishing of Sand Dunes

Is the Thar desert Shrinking..?
The answer to this is an absolute ‘yes’, if the same is examined and considered in the practical perspective. It is widely believed that India’s Thar Desert is expanding particularly in East and North East directions. Some scientists in India have projected that the desert areas are significantly increasing. The findings of some of the scientists are contradicting and are not in conformity with the observations of inhabitants of deserts and are without referring to the ground level situation. The facts relating to increase in rainfall upto and above 250 mm over last couple of years, particularly as an aftermath of Pokhran Nuclear explosions coupled with the executions of Indira Gandhi Canal Project, the digging of deep borewells with support of latest techniques etc., have probably been ignored. The fact remains that contrary to the popular beliefs and the findings of a group of scientists, the Thar desert is not expanding, probably it is shifting towards Delhi through Haryana or Punjab resulting into a phenomenal change in the climate of the capital city. If one crosses the usual desert cities of Rajasthan where most of the Thar desert lies, one can, in no time, face the facts by discussing it with the inhabitants and residents of the desert cities like Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Kolayat etc. The sand dunes at their doorstep have gone miles away. Not so long ago, the movement of trains were used to be disrupted on account of sand blocking the tracks. There used to be special techniques to clear the tracks and on many occasions the passengers had to disembark and help the authorities in clearing the route. The roads, just on the outskirts of cities like Bikaner and Jaisalmer were not approachable on account of coverage of the same by sand. All these facts have become a fiction in the present day context evidencing large scale depletion of desert land.

Reasons of Shrinking

The impending climate changes, human acts and the developments, without caring for nature and the ecology are the primary reasons of diminishing act of desert and are posing a big threat to the eco-system.
Some of the prominent causes are—

A. Farming

With the increase in rainfall and the artificial source of irrigations including digging and drilling of land, and with modern technology, it is becoming increasingly easier to turn the areas in and around the dry and arid desert into productive farmland. However, when the water brought through artificial irrigation evaporates, the salts, which are left behind, form hard crusts and render the soil useless for agriculture, thus defeating the basic idea and concept of greening the area. The leftover salt from this irrigation water also makes the species that live there inhabitable. Though it gives a sense of pride and satisfaction that the desert state is becoming self sufficient in foodgrains, some of the basic facts are ignored as mentioned below:

  • India is a very large nation and as a united country any shortfall in foodgrains in one state can be met by other state, unlike Israel where it has no alternate but to be self sufficient in all areas. This way, the states can salvage their cultural heritage which every Indian would be proud of.
  • The desert land has very large scope of a) Minerals b) Oil c) Gases and d) Tourism, without compromising much on the existence of deserts. Instead of using the desert land for agricultural purposes, concrete and result oriented efforts are required to be made in these areas.

B. Process of Urbanization

With soaring land prices primarily on account of barren land suddenly becoming fertile, the processs of urbanization has begun. The builders and land mafias, hitherto, away from the desert have made their entries. The system and practice of builders’ flats and apartments in multi-storeyed are rapidly replacing the conventional houses and hawelis.
In order to meet the growing demand from the Tourism sector, the hotels, restaurants and eating joints are being constructed on the desert land blindly. The concerned department issues permissions of change in land use without much of caution. In fact, the provision of staying facilities for tourists should be encouraged in the existing Palaces, Hawelis, Village huts camps and tents.

Global Efforts

Number of environmentalists and desert lovers all over the world have taken note of the fact that the desert is diminishing and there is an urgent need to preserve the same. Many Groups and Non Governmental Organisations are working towards keeping the desert safe. Dr Ali Swadh Al Amondi, an UAE environment expert and former advisor to United Nations Development Performance (UNDP) has stressed the requirement to preserve native desert life as it represents the main element that make up the natural ecosystem and natural heritage.
Environment Reserve and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA) plant ecologist Dr. Gary Brown has echoed the need to conserve the desert as it is part of natural heritage and there is no reason to destroy it.
Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi has been doing a tremendously applaudable job in this connection.
Many profile pages and blogs have been created internationally. Voices have been raised to clear and maintain the Arizona desert, South of Tucon which ironically has been trashed by human beings who pass through the place.
Attempts have been made by the environment lovers of Egypt to save and protect the desert as back as in 1987.
Many NGOs have approached and filed petition with the Ministry of Tourism, Egypt to stop the construction activity and save the desert form further destruction. Al Hayat organization in Farafra Oasis and Desert lovers organization in Bahariya under the Chairmanship of Mr. Saed Ali are running an Online Petition to address the Ministry of Tourism on this issue.
Concerted efforts are being made in Central Australia to preserve the desert to ensure survival of the fascinating creatures of the region such as Red Kangaroo, Thorny devil etc. There have been tremendous growth in support for conservation in Australia. A “Corporate Conservation Council“ has been launched in 2007 to involve the business community in the project relating to protection of environment.
In United States of America, the environmentalists and Champions on environmental issues are actively participating in the process to protect the desert and its habitats. While President Obama’s priority is the development of cleaner energy in Southern California, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and a large section of desert lovers are making untiring efforts to prepare a legislation that would permanently land off limits to solar and wind energy projects. The territory is proposed to be declared as “National Monument” and is set to be a big set back to Obama’s dream of setting up Energy projects in the region. Feinstein is quoting the provisions of California Desert Protection Act 1994 in support of her opposition to Obama’s plans. In a sarcastic but truthful statement, Bill Kovacs, Vice President -- Environment, Technology and Rregulatory Affairs, of U.S. Chamber of Commerce stated "If you're going to take the desert away from us, where are you going to allow it -- Los Angeles?"

Efforts in India

Efforts so Far -- Government Apathy

Every incline in technology has to be paid off by nature. Call it the receding greener pastures or the eroding desert regions. This also brings forth the callousness of the governmental bodies and the people of the Region who seem to have never thought of the devastating results, playing with nature can bring in the long run and for the future generations. The most relevant need of the people and inhabitants of the Thar desert is drinking water and not water for irrigation. Though there has been some efforts by Government as well as by several NGOs in the area of providing drinking water but not before the situation has aggravated to the level wherein disaster is just knocking. The Government seems to be having ‘water for irrigation’ as their preferred agenda item as it benefits the rich and the affluent section of society rather than the drinking water which has become a topic for discussions in meetings and seminars. The concept and thought of retaining and preserving deserts have never been in the list of priorities of Government. Unfortunately, the businessmen and industrialists of Rajasthan who, otherwise are very benevolent and always champion the cause of social upliftments, have never looked upon the need and requirement to curb the de-desertification. The writers write about the beautiful deserts, the poets describe and rightly glorify the desert land, the singers put their heart and soul in the folk songs, calling it as a heaven on earth but no one ever has ever thought of the fact that the deserts are diminishing and the speed by which it is depleting, the day is not far when all proses, poetries and songs will have a theoretical and academic value only.
The primary focus should be on the following…

  • De-Desertification
  • Water Harvesting
  • Drinking Water
  • Desert Vegetation
  • Employment Generation
  • Protecting the Heritage.
India already has a number of regions that have been rendered unproductive by deforestation, overgrazing, population pressure and a breakdown of the traditional social order. People in these regions have been reduced to dependence on cash remittances from the cities or living as contract labourers in various other parts of the state or migrating to other part of the country and living a miserable life.
The desert communities themselves can control not only the resources of the area but trade and commerce as well if they themselves play the role of middlemen and entrepreneurs. This will call for new institutions to be created and new relationships shaped up, compatible with the changes in the deserts. This will bring forward the need of a scientific, social, economic and technical research to be carried out in the deserts on a continuing basis and a viable social model developed for the region and supported. Further, it would need the establishment of an institution in the desert, manned by competent professionals well-versed in modern economics, engineering and agriculture and simultaneously highly sensitive to local cultural and tradition.
There is reason to believe, however, that there is still time to save this planet and its inhabitants; while the desert winds continue to blow, more and more people think about global ecological challenges, but then there is a strong need for some one, who actually thinks and does something about the diminishing and/or shifting of deserts.
The time has probably come that strong measures are initiated not only to protect the further depletion and diminution of desert but also to reinstate the lost glory of the desert.