A 6 years old carrying 5 ltrs; early morning, everyday and yet another trip waits for her. She might not know what she is missing at the school today. They said everything will be sorted with salt water; tears, sweat or ocean. Well, they should have visited the low hills of Himalayas to see non smiling faces of little girls and sweat marks on their forehead just to get a bucket full of drinking water every day. The early morning of any hamlet in Devprayag starts with children lining up in water queue either at a Hand-pump, Stand-post or at spring which could be 500 meters downhill. When you cover that distance with 15 ltrs of water can every day from such tender ages, you don’t need gym trainer to develop your muscles in your teen-age, but you may need a teacher who will have to help you cope with whatever you have missed out in those early classes, while trying to hunt water.

- Tanmay Pisolkar
Picture courtesy : Prateek Sengupta



unnamed‘One swallow does not the summer make’. This famous line attributed to Aristotle evokes the gregarious barn swallow (Hirundo rustica), a familiar species in the countryside. In the Indian subcontinent, the barn swallow is a partially migratory species that breeds in the Himalayas in the summer, also crossing over to northern climes of Asia. In the difficult winter months, it makes the subcontinent its home. Recognised by its streamlined slender build, shiny dark-blue back, prominent white belly and a deep forked tail, it makes its mud nest under bridges, under the eaves of old buildings and even in the verandahs of occupied houses. It is a largely aerial species, mostly seen when it is expertly catching insects on the wing, as it flies low above fields, villages and ponds. In Kumaon, this bird is loved by the local shopkeepers and eatery-owners who allow these birds to nest and roost inside their shops. The shopkeepers do not mind the noisy squabbling of the chicks as they are fed and finally fledge and even keep their shop shutters ajar to allow the bird to fly in and out. Perhaps the bird provides the service of controlling agricultural pests which has been recognised by the people. The barn swallow provides an example of the traditional people-nature interactions in Kumaon that are responsible for much biodiversity even in the midst of human settlements.

- Dr. Ghazala Sahabuddin
Picture courtesy :
 Rajkamal Goswami.

blog imgNatural ecosystems are critical for human well being. This much is well understood. Benefits to humans from nature are collectively termed as ecosystem services. These include a range of goods and services, from wild fruits and medicines to biodiversity, natural beauty and aesthetics. The most important ecosystem services though are those that we barely perceive – the formation of soil for example, or reduction of pollutants from air or water passing through a forest, or the recycling of nutrients. My thoughts about that which is unseen come from a recent report I read. An expert opinion on rejuvenating Sukhatal. Sukha-tal (or dry lake) is a small ephemeral lake just upstream of Naini tal, the lake that gives Nainital town its name. CEDAR has invested considerable efforts in raising awareness about Sukhatal which appears to be the main source of subsurface recharge to lake Nainital. The soils in the lake bed of Sukhatal are highly permeable, and below the lake are several faults and fractures. Rainwater fills Sukhatal but then rapidly seeps through the permeable soils into the aquifer below. The combinations of rocks and fractures below Sukhatal allow water from this aquifer to gradually seep into Naini lake – or Naini tal. This subterranean seepage of water in the rainless months keeps Nainital full and maintains its beauty for tourists. Sukhatal’s own beauty is unremarkable. Once it is dry, a few weeks after the last rains of monsoon, it becomes a bare piece of land – a wasted flat space ripe for encroachment – some of which has occurred. It was this neglect that CEDAR focussed on through its work these past few years. However, a recent plan commissioned by the administration brings a new threat. The plan calls for the rejuvenation of Sukhatal. This rejuvenation will be through beautification. Walkways and tourist attractions are to be built around the lake and a geo-synthetic clay liner will prevent water from seeping through the lake bed. This may make Sukhatal more attractive to tourists, but what will it do to the town of Nainital? Nainital depends on its lake not just for tourism - but its very existence. All water supply to the town directly or indirectly emanates from Naini lake. Removing the most important source of sub-surface recharge can immeasurably damage Naini lake and the economy of the town. It is imperative to understand this linkage between these two lakes. Changing Sukhatal will change Nainital. Enhancing Sukhatal’s beauty is all very well, but making the lake bed impermeable will destroy the soul of Sukhatal. And this can then strip away the beauty of Nainital and reveal the ugliness that lies just below the surface. Beauty is only skin deep wrote Sir Thomas Overbury some four hundred years ago. A proverb that has come to mean that a pleasing appearance is not a guide to ones character or inherent quality. The superficiality of beauty can be extended beyond humans - to nature and natural environments as well. Sukhatals importance lies in the ecosystem function it provides to Nainital. Let not that be damaged in the name of beuatification.

 Picture courtesy: Rajesh Thadani.