Mr. Harish Gupta, IFS and currently DFO-Vidisha district, was recently in news for pledging to donate his body to science instead of it being traditionally cremated. A passionate crusader for ecology and forest conservation, he is actively working to save our forests by raising awareness, running campaigns and protecting wildlife. A social activist, he promotes education, healthy lifestyle and its importance among children and how they are our brightest hope in saving Mother Earth and developing a healthy, responsible society. We spoke at length with him where he shared with us his views on environment, forests and how each individual can do their part in saving our natural heritage.
1. Tell us about your academic background.
I did my M.Sc in Botany in the year 1984 from Sagar University and then proceeded to do M.Sc Forestry from Dehradun from 1985-1987.
2. What was your inspiration to get into forest service?
I have always been a nature lover. Being in and around forest was and still is, my biggest passion which I always wanted pursue professionally. With God’s grace, I tried and became successful in the same by clearing my SFS exam in 1985 and was awarded IFS in 1998.
3. Did you work in any other faculty before coming to Forest service?
Post the completion of my M.Sc in 1984, I appeared for SBI’s exam and successfully passed it. My first posting was in Sidhi district which is a part of Rewa division in Madhya Pradesh, where I worked for around 8 months as their probationary officer.
4. What is your dream about the forests in the country in general and in MP to be specific ?
My dream, even though idealistic and something that is practically becoming impossible to achieve in current times, would be to see 33% of India’s geographical area to be covered in forests. This is a scientifically proven, minimum requirement of any country. When it comes to Madhya Pradesh, currently, 22% of state’s geographical area comes under forest cover. The importance of forests can be judged from the fact that every river in India and MP like Narmada, Son or Betwa, all originate from forest. If there is enough greenery and vegetation in their catchment area, only then can these rivers flow to their highest capability. Ground recharging in the jungles, soil and water conservation, all are dependent on the upkeep of forests. This is possible only if we take maximum plantation drives on private as well as government land through horticulture plants, agro-forestry model, block-line plantation method, to name a few. The main aim is to try and increase our tree cover, through whatever means suitable and possible.
5. How did the thought of donating your body come to your mind ?
I believe that from the time we are born and throughout our life, we take a lot from the society and are completely dependent on it for our survival. It is also our duty to repay by helping out our society in some way or the other. Whether that contribution is small or big, it does not matter but the intention and emotion behind it establishes the foundation of one’s service and help. I have been blessed with a respectable position in life and good health being the part of the society, so why not help it back in some way, even after I am gone! Hence, this oath to donate my body to science. This will also help in eco-conservation because to cremate any dead body, five quintal of wood from any one healthy tree is required. By donating my body, life of at least one healthy tree will be saved! I donate blood frequently and decided that this time I will donate something greater that involves my other organs and eventually my whole body, for someone in need.
6. What other initiatives have you taken up for environment/ forest conservation?
If I talk about Vidisha district specially, we do have a few initiatives in place. We all know that plastic and polythene, in any form, are biggest air, water and soil polluter. This results in serious environment degradation and animal deaths when we dispose them off. In one of our campaign, we reuse this polythene, specially used milk packets wherein we thoroughly clean, cut and plant seasonal fruits’ seeds in them. This results in zero investment green technology which also becomes a good option for gifting someone on special occasions and also works as a home plant. Under this initiative, we have prepared more than 1 lakh plants and distributed around 70,000 of them in around 200 schools of Vidisha, teaching the children about this technology along with it. Secondly, nowadays we are seeing that house sparrows are fast disappearing from our cities. To combat this, we are building artificial nests and installing them in houses so that these birds can take shelter and easily breed in a safe place. We have already installed around 10,000 of them in Vidisha district with successful breeding taking place in many of them.
7. MP has the highest number of tiger reserves for any state in the country. Your thoughts on resulting tourism?
There are 7 tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh. In the recent tiger census, Madhya Pradesh has ranked first with 526 tigers. That is why Madhya Pradesh has now been declared as tiger State. Presence of a tiger is a depiction of a rich and healthy forest. If tiger is present in any forest it means there is enough herbivores, grasslands and water bodies. It indicates good habitat for the wildlife. As far as tourism is concerned, it has definitely gone up. In any tiger reserve 10-15% area becomes tourist zone while remaining part is kept reserved for their breeding and other daily routines. In short, we can say that if 10-15% area is converted into tourist zone then it has no harm because it facilitates local employment for the villagers as tourist guides, taxi drivers etc. It also helps to create awareness about the environment among the villagers and tourists.
8. As per the parliament data, MP is the largest state in terms of maximum forest cover. Your comments.
Madhya Pradesh’s forests are known for their rich biodiversity, with beautiful miscellaneous forests like Balaghat, Mandla, Seoni-Chhindwara as well as teak forests. Food chain and food web are both extensively connected, starting from microbes till tigers who are living together in a healthy environment. We all know that plants, animals and microbes are interdependent on each other under the pyramid of food chain. Forests of Kanha and Pench are specially famous for their miscellaneous forests, with Pench National Park being ranked first in best management practices for a national park across the country, for this year. As I had mentioned before, forest cover in Madhya Pradesh counts for 22% and that is something we should all be very proud of and strive to maintain in future as well.
9. What are your plans for the future ?
I will be working in government sector for next 4-4.5 years. My focus is to create awareness about the environment and I truly believe that children are the best medium to achieve this objective. They are also important link to develop good citizens for the country. I therefore, visit government schools on priority specially in the remote and rural parts. I meet the students and explain them about the environment, our ancient vedic culture and the science behind it. For grown up children, I do career counselling, provide health tips and fitness lessons and motivate them to become part of a healthy society. We ensure that we give at least one plant to one student so that they plant their trees at home, courtyard, fences etc. This will help them to become sensitive towards the environment and be responsible citizens of the country. And I strive to continue with this mission in future as well.
10. What message would you like to give to society and specially to youth?
I believe that since we always take something from the society, it is our duty to give back and help the society in return. It can take any form like body donation, blood donation, providing education, creating awareness for environment conservation. This will create a strong, educated and healthy society whose youth are responsible to contribute extensively to the society and environment. So my only advice would be that always make it a point to help the society in some form or the other.