grateful to Sohrabji Godrej, one of India’s leading environ mentalists
during the long association of 20 years when he was Trustee and later
President of World Wide Fund for Nature ?India (WWF ?India), and
a valued member of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), two
leading NGOs I was associated with, for helping me to foster this unique
concept, dear to my heart: “Defending the Earth: The Role of the Armed
Forces in the Protection of the Environment.?br>
For many years the world feared a nuclear holocaust as its greatest
threat. Today it is religious fundamentalism and terrorism. But most of
us do not realise that the greatest threat to us humanoids is the
galloping consumption, the degradation of Nature and its natural
resources. If we do not protect and restore Nature, the provider of all
our life support systems, we are doomed. One shudders to think of the
environmental degradation caused in Iraq with the massive air strikes,
cruise missiles, smart bombs, daisy cutters and bombs, not forgetting
the setting of some oil fields on fire. This abuse is not doing Planet
Earth any good and this is evident in the unusual weather changes the
world is experiencing, causing floods, droughts, temperature changes and
damage to the ozone layer. Our greed is insatiable in this age of
rampant consumerism. We do not seem to realise that without Nature’s
bounties, our very life support systems, especially water, energy,
forests and unpolluted air, will dwindle to the point of no return.
Many years ago, when Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was the President
of WWF ?nbsp; International, he asked me to make a 12-minute presentation
to the international body, on how the Indian Army was contributing to
protecting Nature. Since then there has been no looking back. It is
encouraging to note that this movement is growing.
The acronym PER sums up what we need to remember.
“P?stands for PROBLEMS: viz. Population, not only of human beings but
also of animals and livestock, all vying for the limited arable land
available; Poaching, not only of wildlife but medicinal plants, marine
life and other forestry products; and dreaded Pollution of air, water
and land, so rampant in the world today.
“E?is for our ENVIRONMENTAL NEEDS: the need to ensure Equitable
Distribution of Nature’s manifold bounties; Environmental Harmony by
ensuring against the overuse of any one resource; and Efficiency, using
effective scientific means to protect our natural wealth.
“R?is for REMEDIES: viz. Refuse; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Restore. Using
this tool, it is easy to motivate men in uniform because, certainly in
the case of India, they are deployed in every possible type of
ecosystem: urban, rural, mountainous, desert, tropical rainforests and
The very thought of the Armed Forces of any country being deployed on
environmental protection and restoration may seem incongruous, when for
ages they have been thought of as wanton destroyers of Nature and
wildlife. The recent air strikes in Iraq would appear to confirm this
opinion. I believe it is not so.
Role of the Armed Forces
hat is the role
of the Armed Forces? The two traditional roles are of ensuring the
integrity of a nation’s external borders and internal peace, including
aid to the civil authorities in times of crisis. After World War II, two
new dimensions were added: namely international peacekeeping/peacemaking
on behalf of the United Nations and disaster relief. To this has now
been added a fifth role of the protection and restoration of Nature
based on the role model of the Indian Armed Forces and its Army in
particular. This recommendation was submitted by the World Consultative
Association of Retired Generals and Air Marshals (for Peace) to two
successive Secretary Generals of the U.N., Boutros Boutros Ghali and
Kofi Annan. Both agreed that they become universal tenets for the Armed
Many of us tend to forget that our Armed Forces are not always at war,
on operations or ensuring internal peace. There will always be some
formations and units in peacetime locations. They thus have the time to
address themselves to environmental protection. Even when deployed
operationally in pristine areas as the Indian Army is, they can
contribute tangibly in protecting the environment. Thus the belief that
the Armed Forces should not be involved in such roles is hogwash. They
not only can but they must, as they too belong to the global community.
It is important to remember that in today’s world, all societies live
under the ominous global threat of environmental destruction, that
frontiers are shrinking and that our Planet Earth has become a global
The question that now emerges is why the Military? There are a number of
reasons in so far as the Indian Armed Forces are concerned. These are
Indian Army personnel are all volunteers
and regulars and serve for a minimum of 15 years. This ensures
continuity in any environmental tasks undertaken by them.
Personnel are recruited nationwide and
are therefore au fait with the environmental problems of the
Recruits, especially those of the Army,
generally come from rural backgrounds. They thus have a better
understanding of Nature’s web of life and how each strand is
interdependent on the other.
The Military has the leadership,
motivation, dedication/commitment to tasks, training and discipline to
perform this fifth role effectively.
It has the inbuilt infrastructure,
namely mobility, intercommunications, medical and engineering skills
necessary for such tasks.
An important point that has been raised
in the past is that the use of the Army in such roles is likely to
cause friction with the civil populace. In India the Armed Forces are
looked upon with respect and such initiatives are in fact welcomed.
The Armed Forces are the managers of
vast tracts of defence lands such as depots, training areas, ranges,
naval bases, airfields and other installations and to that extent can
hone their ecological skills at home as it were.
The Armed Forces, especially the Army,
are so structured and organised as to enable task forces of various
sizes to be deployed on such tasks in self-contained groups.
The Military by virtue of its training,
mobility and deployment is capable of operating in all types of
terrain and weather conditions.
Finally, every year a large number of
personnel retire from the Service. They form a valuable resource pool
of trained, disciplined and motivated manpower for environmental
duties in organisations like the Eco Territorial Battalions.
that the Armed
not be involved
in such roles is
not only can but
they must, as
they too belong
to the global
The Tasks Ahead
et us now
address ourselves to what the Armed Forces can do in this fifth role.
Some of these tasks are:
If charity begins at home, provide Green
residences, unit living areas, cantonments, training areas and rifle
Control pollution through sound
management procedures by insisting on the highest standards of hygiene
Be exemplars in the use and tapping of
non-conventional sources of energy like solar, wind, geothermal and
Create awareness among all ranks, their
families and locals through Nature camps and trails, films/audio
visual presentations, at sainik sammelans (open house meetings) and so
Use religious teachers and the weekly
visits to places of worship like the Unit Mandir, Gurdwara, Masjid and
Church to promote the need to protect the environment. It is of
interest to remember that the Gita, written ages ago, enjoins all
peoples to protect the panch mahabutas (five essential elements) viz.
water (Jal), light (Prakash), earth (Dharti), the atmosphere (Vayu)
and fire (Agni).
Restore areas degraded or damaged during
training exercises and like activities.
Introduce efficient methods of garbage
collection and disposal for recycling and/or production of biogas,
organic manure and vermiculture. The swill from cookhouses forms a
good diet for unit-run piggeries, especially in cold areas.
Ban the use of non-biodegradable
material like polythene bags.
Encourage planned parenthood among the
rank and file through counselling.
Acquire pertinent inputs contributing to
the environment such as pollution and sighting of endangered species
through observation in remote areas.
Conserve water and electricity.
Be exemplars not only in unit areas, but
through personnel who go on leave.
Liaise with local bodies, NGOs and
Forest and Environmental Departments.
Provide infrastructural and medical
cover to scientists working in remote areas and the more inaccessible
areas of the country where the Army is deployed.
Above all, BE EXEMPLARS.
hat then is the
organisational set-up in the Indian Army to fulfil its environmental
role? At the apex level at Army Headquarters (HQs), the task of
overseeing all eco activities has been entrusted to the Quarter Master
General under whose aegis all defence lands are placed. He has under him
an Assistant Director General, Land Works and Environment, a Deputy
Director General, PPE, a Director, Eco Cell, and an Assistant Quarter
Master General, Eco Cell.
Annual meetings are normally convened in Delhi to discuss eco problems
in the Army to which representatives from the other two Services, the
Border Roads, Forestry Department and the Environmental Ministry are
invited. NGOs like WWF and the BNHS may also be invited.
At Army Command level there is an Officer in Charge, Eco Cell, and at
Formation levels Officers in Charge of Eco Cells are appointed by the
local commander. The Chief of the Army Staff takes a personal interest
in these activities. He is often invited to make presentations on the
working of the Army Eco Cells.
Such meetings enable the Army to seek inputs in areas where they may
lack know-ledge. Army HQ interacts with the Department of Wasteland
Development, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (the funding agency
for the unique Eco Territorial Army Units) and WWF ?India among
others. At Command and Formation HQs, liaison is established with State
Governments, the Forest Department and recognised NGOs. It is therefore
evident that the Army takes this productive role seriously.
The second part of this article will deal with the creation of
Ecological Territorial Army Battalions and the achievement of the Indian
and overseas Armed Forces in this productive venture.
written ages ago,
peoples to pro-
tect the panch
mahabutas (five essential-
elements) viz. water
(Vayu) and fire