Ecological TA


BACKGROUND
The early eighties were a trying and testing time for the fragile ecology of the Shivalik Ranges. The Queen of Hills-Mussorie was on the brink of losing its pristine splendour, due to the unscientific and illegal mining of limestone. The unorganised mining activity in the area, intensified the rate of deforestation in an unprecedented manner.

Alarmed at the ecological degradation in the Shivaliks, Dr Norman Borlough, from Wheat and Maize Centre, Mexico suggested to the former Prime Minister of India, Late Mrs. Indira Gandhi to involve the Indian Army to restore the ecological balance on a war footing. As the regular Army could not be utilised for the purpose, it was decided that a Territorial Army Unit be raised for the purpose, enrolling ex-servicemen from the region.

This was with the dual aim of re-settlement of Ex-Servicemen and regeneration of ecology. As an unique experiment 127 Infantry Battalion (Territorial Army) GARHWAL RIFLES was raised on 01 Dec 1982.

CONCEPT
Ecological Task Force (ETF) Battalions (TA) have been raised to execute specific ecology related projects, with military like work culture and commitment, by enrolling Ex-Servicemen. ETF Battalions (TA) use technical expertise of the respective State Forest Department (SFD), for afforestation related activities and promote environment.

PRESENT STATUS
Presently nine such Infantry Battalions (TA) Ecological, comprising 22 operational companies, are carrying out afforestation in difficult and degraded areas in States of Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, J & K, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Assam and Maharashtra. The Ecological Bn for Maharashtra has been raised in 2017 for drought hit Marathwada region of the state. Also, a Composite Ecological Task Force for National Mission for Clean Ganga is under raising at Allahabad. On completion of raising, one company each will be deployed at Kanpur, Varanasi and Allahabad for the said mission. ETF Bns are either funded by Min of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF& CC) or by respective State Govts. These ETF Battalions have been raised with the twin objectives of restoration of fragile ecosystem and affording excellent opportunity for Army Veterans to contribute in Nation building.

ACHIEVEMENTS
Till date ETF Battalions have planted approximately 6.88 crore saplings and covered an area of 72,741 Hectares of land, with 75 to 80 percent of survival rate. ETF Battalions have been given due recognition for their exemplary contribution in the field of ecology and have been bestowed with various National and State level awards.

Initiative to Check Economic Migration along Border Areas
A unique initiative and vision of Indian Army has entailed plantation of high quality Walnut and Chilgoza saplings in Malari region of Uttrakhand to prevent migration of villagers. Malari region is strategically located in Niti Valley, on an axis leading to the China Border and is remotely located and cut off from Joshimath due to heavy snowfall between December-April. The locals migrate to lower regions during this period. There are no avenues of employment & even the cultivable land is inadequate for a sustainable livelihood. The project has been initiated on the directions of General Bipin Rawat, UYSM, AVSM, YSM, SM, VSM, ADC, Chief of the Army Staff, who conceived the idea and is the driving force behind the initiative.
The uniqueness of the initiative is that it involves all resident families in planting saplings of Walnut & Chilgoza, which will belong to them, and they would be sole beneficiaries of the fruits borne by the saplings planted by them.
The first phase of this pilot project was inaugurated at Malari on 19 May 2017. A large number of enthusiastic villagers attended the event and 4000 saplings of Walnut & Chilgoza were planted. In Phase II approximate 1,00,000 saplings will be planted over the next three years.
127 Inf Bn (TA) Eco, GARH RIF and 130 Inf Bn (TA) Eco, KUMAON have been earmarked for this project. The units have already prepared nurseries and sowed more than one lakh seedlings of Walnut specially procured from Central Institute for Temperate Horticulture, Srinagar, J & K. These saplings thereafter will be transplanted in designated areas of Garhwal and Kumaon region.

CONCLUSION
By virtue of their task and role, the Ecological Territorial Army units are contributing immensely by ecological activities towards disaster mitigation and also be part of Nation building efforts of the Indian Army.