Balbir Singh


He seems to be a man on a mission to do everything, almost everything that could make life better for others. Over a period of time, Srinagar-based Balbir Singh has been holding many responsibilities, from being State in Incharge of IIGS (Indian Institute of Gurmat Studies), Tustin (USA), to Director of Adventure Sports (Youth Hostels Association of India, Kashmir Unit), Organising Secretary of Gandhi Global Family (J&K), to Associate Member of Justice & Care International to being a Member of the Multi-Disciplinary Committee on Environment, NHPC. caught up with the Chief Executive Officer of Social Abetterment in Versatile Environment (SAVE). Some excerpts from an interaction with Rajesh Prothi.

You seem to do almost everything when it comes to contributing to society. How did the idea of SAVE come up?
B. Singh: There are different aspects of Social Abetterment which are closely linked with each other in our versatile environment. In a developing economy like India and an industrially backward state like Jammu and Kashmir, the living standards of the common man can’t be enhanced without proper knowledge-based education. We cannot expect our future generation’s prosperity without raising the status of our women in particular. In a state like ours, where unemployment is a major issue, creating awareness for better avenues other than the Government Sector that too without affecting our ecological balance, the very future of our own survival and the survival of our next generations is what SAVE stands for. The idea of SAVE had evolved over a period of time, as to my understanding of the eco-system around which the efforts started falling in place. A lot of NGOs have been working for the orphaned and the destitute, some exclusively for women & children, some in the field of health and employment, and some for the environment. We felt that all these components were vitally interlinked with each other and were an integral part of our versatile environment. Therefore, such strategies need to be devised so that every component was duly taken care of without disturbing the important ecological balance and that is where the idea of SAVE cropped up.

There has been a debate over the substantial loss of green cover in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. As CEO of SAVE, what is your take on this, and what has been your contribution towards reversing the process? 
B. Singh: It’s a fact that there has been a big loss in green cover in the state, particularly in the forest areas of the Kashmir Valley. The major reason is that a lot of illegal felling of trees has been done to cater to the ever-increasing need for timber required for construction owing to rapid urbanization in the Valley. The areas most affected are the ones that are near human habitation which have been cleared of vegetation and encroached upon to a large extent. These areas have further been converted to dryland agriculture areas. The loss is substantial. , A large number of forest compartments are presently lying in a degraded condition due to random cutting of trees over the last 22 years of turmoil prevalent in the Valley. However, in the non-forestry areas, i.e., areas outside protected forests, the green cover has increased substantially due to rapid expansion in the horticulture sector. This is due to the plantation of poplar and willow as cash crops owing to increased demand for apple boxes, veneer, and plywood industrial units. But this does not mean, that we are in a comfortable green zone, no, not at all. We need to go a long way to go back to a situation we were in two decades back as far as green cover is concerned. Our role in the whole process has been to create the required awareness and support the process of reversing the depleted green cover.

Has the demand for wood the major reason for the loss of Green Cover in the State?
B. Singh: The major reason for deforestation in the State is due to an increase in the development activities, especially in the urbanization section, which resulted in the increase in demand for timber. The other reasons are very much commercials, like the high price of timber which is considered Green Gold. The hunger for land due to population exposure near the forest area and the increasing tendency amongst the people for converting the forest land into horticulture plantations and dryland agriculture areas has done a massive loss to our natural resources.

From your point of view, what is expected from the people of the state so as to first stop further deforestation and then inch back to previous levels of green cover? 
B. Singh: The participation of people has to be ensured and encouraged for the protection of the forest resources, especially in the areas in close proximity to the forests. That is why in the new schemes like Campa and Greening India, launched by the Union Ministry for Environment & Forests, special emphasis has been laid on the concept of social fencing rather than the conventional barbed wire fencing. The people living in the area have to be made aware of the importance of forests in their livelihood, the role of forests in providing clean air, potable water, and safe gardening soils so that the productivity of the areas in this mountainous valley is not only ensured but increased to meet the aim of sustainable development. The people living near forests have to be actively associated with all the forest conservation programs. Apart from this, students, especially school children, need to be actively involved in awareness generation and forest conservation activities.