In Assam, the army’s green task force sows seeds of revival in milk packs | india-news | Hindustan Times
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In Assam, the army’s green task force sows seeds of revival in milk packs

The army’s 134 Ecological Task Force (ETF), called Eastern Planters, has started replacing polypots or polythene bags for saplings with recyclable tetrapacks of milk sourced from army units in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang sector.

world environment day Updated: Jun 04, 2016 21:38 IST
Rahul Karmakar
The army’s 134 Ecological Task Force has started replacing polypots or polythene bags for saplings with recyclable tetrapacks of milk sourced from army units in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang sector.
The army’s 134 Ecological Task Force has started replacing polypots or polythene bags for saplings with recyclable tetrapacks of milk sourced from army units in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang sector. (Rahul Karmakar/HT Photo)

CHARIDUAR: Every packet of sterilised milk consumed by a soldier on the China frontier helps to revive rebel-destroyed jungles in Assam.

The army’s 134 Ecological Task Force (ETF), called Eastern Planters, has started replacing polypots or polythene bags for saplings with recyclable tetrapacks of milk sourced from army units in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang sector.

This has helped 134ETF – the youngest of eight such eco-battalions in India – cut down by more than 50% the expenditure on polypots at R1 each. The task force uses 400,000 saplings a year.

“Unlike polypots, the tetrapacks decompose to a certain degree. Saplings in tetrapacks have a higher survival rate are easily available,” said Col KS Jaggi, the commanding officer of 134ETF, which is based on the edge of the 200-square-km Nameri National Park in Chariduar in north-central Assam’s Sonitpur district. It is barely 200m off the highway linking Indian Army’s 4 Corps in Tezpur to Tawang, 330km away.

“Our strategic location has made it easy for convoys to and from Tenga (where the army has a division), Tawang (brigade) and other places in the sector drop used milk containers for us to pick up and reuse,” Col Jaggi said.

Colonel Jaggi (right) and a jawan hold planted saplings. “Our strategic location has made it easy for convoys...to drop used milk containers for us to pick up and reuse,” Col Jaggi said.

A vegetarian soldier is allotted 1 litre of milk a day, meat-eaters get 250ml, said spokesperson Lt Col Sombit Ghosh. The smallest army formation – a section comprising 10 men – generates two to 10 tetrapacks every day. A brigade of five battalions, 800 men each, generate much more.

Between May 2008 and March 2015, the Eastern Planters has planted 5.2 million trees across 4058.5 hectares of land deforested by militant outfits for timber to fund insurgency. They had also encouraged locals to settle in the forests to bring more areas under the Bodo tribal council, then at a proposed stage.

This dual strategy saw Sonitpur district lose 232 square km of forest cover between 1994 and 2001. The legislation of the forest rights act in 2007 led to another round of encroachment, with half the 60,000 claims filed Assam filed from this district.

The first eco-battalion -- the 127ETF based in Dehradun, with men from the Garhwal Rifles -- was formed in 1982 after Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug suggested the Indian Army be utilised to check degradation of forests. No other army in the world has such a green task force.