The ongoing construction work for the development of an eco-park, inside a reserve forest at Devalsari in Tehri Garhwal, has disturbed the biodiversity of the area, claim local villagers. They point out that not only has the eco-park contributed to concretisation of the forest,multiple statues of wildlife, including animals that are not even found in the area, have been put up by the forest department near the park. Besides, the villagers say that the department has felled several trees for facilitating the park.
“This area has a unique flora and fauna composition and even a minor concrete intervention will hit the biodiversity adversely,” said Arun Gour, founder of Devalsari Paryavaran Sarakshan Samiti, a body formed by villagers for protection of the area’s environment.
Devalsari is known for its pristine Deodar forests and biodiversity and is hailed as a paradise for butterfly watchers. In January this year, Devalsari was identified among a few Biodiversity Heritage Sites of Uttarakhand and the villagers were promised that on May 22, the International Day of Biological Diversity, it will be declared a Biodiversity Heritage Site. But nothing has happened on that front, villagers alleged. “They have even felled a 200-year-old Eucalyptus tree which was the habitat of a critically-endangered flying squirrel which is found here, without the consent of villagers who have rights on these forests,” Gour said, adding that he will sit on an indefinite protest along with other villagers if the government fails to stop this project. When queried on the issue, Kahkshan Naseem, the divisional forest officer of Mussoorie, told TOI, “The eco-park is fenced using a chain link fencing as it was over-grazed by the livestock. Thus, we have secured it to maintain its natural beauty. Also, the small patch of around 2 hectares has everything eco-friendly, anyone can come and see it for themselves.”
On the endangered flying squirrels, Naseem said, “Oak and deodar trees are natural habitats of these flying squirrels as they survive on acorns and nuts. Eucalyptus trees on the other hand release a pungent smell and squirrels don’t rest on them.”
The forest authorities also added that they plan to connect Devalsari with other trekking routes that can take the tourists to picturesque villages like Nagthat, Pantwari and others.