It is hard to spot a patch of green here. For miles, the only exception is base camp commander Colonel RC Patro’s green beret.
But the army has firmed up plans to transform this cold desert into a verdant landscape: it is now mandatory for every Siachen Brigade soldier to plant five saplings before he embarks on the arduous journey to an isolated post on Saltoro heights.
As part of a campaign — “Green Siachen, Clean Siachen” — the army is focusing on providing green cover to large swathes of this barren territory, at a height of over 12,000 feet, extending from the snout of the glacier to Nubra and Shyok Valleys.
The eco-drive, possible only because of the November 2003 ceasefire with Pakistan, involves planting “sia” or rose bushes and saplings of willow, poplar and a clutch of ornamental trees. “The objective is to reduce soil erosion, improve water conservation and oxygenate the rarefied atmosphere. We have over-achieved targets by planting 1.17 lakh saplings against the specified 1.02 lakh. After de-induction from the glacier, soldiers love to check out saplings planted by them,” says an officer.
The harsh climate and thin air are the toughest challenges on the green road, but the jawans’s ingenuity has managed to find a way out.
A jawan from the Rajput regiment explains, “We cover the tip of the saplings with mud wrapped in plastic to protect them from sub-zero conditions. Water from Nubra river is used for irrigation.”
The army’s initiatives are significant against the background of allegations by a section of environmentalists that military activity has sent tonnes of chemicals to the surface of the glacier and accelerated its retreat. “It is true that the glacier has receded 115 metres since 1984. But that is because of global warming, not military presence. Isn’t the Gangotri shrinking as well?” Brigadier Om Prakash, commander, Siachen Brigade, asks.