The Green Warrior
Had it not been for social revolutionaries springing up at many corners of the earth, this planet of ours perhaps would have reached the brink of extinction. One such woman who has set a new benchmark is Jyotsna Sitling, India’s first female tribal IFS officer. Hailing from a village in North Bengal (Kalimpong), she has always harboured a passionate concern for the environment. What’s more, she has translated her genuine love into substantial action which won her the most prestigious honour for environment conservation in India – the Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar.
Back in 2002, she had joined the Nanda Devi Biosphere in Uttarakhand, as its director. Being entrusted with massive duties which were further threatened by the numerous obstacles that impeded her endeavours, she remained undeterred and accomplished stupendous eco-restoration work in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, helped the Valley of Flowers National Park in Chamoli achieve a World Heritage Site (WHS) status and also started a unique conservation movement that has allowed the ecologically vulnerable Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve to overpower the threats it had to encounter.
This 45 year-old-woman, diminutive yet strong-willed, had always been an avid trekker and a fervent nature-lover. The 19 km, breathtakingtrail that is hosted by the Valley of Flowers National Park that leads to Hemkund Sahib, the highest Gurudwara of the world, was stinking with garbage, plastic etc. dumped by pilgrims for three decades. Jyotsna started vigorous campaigns involving the local community. To everyone’s surprise, 15 truckloads of garbage weighing up to 50 tonnes was collected by the community, such was the forceful enthusiasm generated by her! The entire mass was then sent to be recycled, and thus, the area was rescued from being pestered by harmful pollutants. Apart from this, she has done commendable work in reducing the number of unorganized shops that added further pollution to the trek trail. Not only did she wonderfully resolve this issue but also introduced several schemes that helped improve the lives of the local population, the pilgrims, the forest officials etc.
During her tenure as the director of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, she put together a full-fledged guideline for mountaineering in Uttarakhand in 2004, a first of its kind in any state of India. Simultaneously, she continued her activities to improve the face of the Valley of Flowers National Park, which ultimately was rewarded with the honour of being declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005. The erosion-prone zone of the Shivalik Range near the Doon Valley bears the testimony of another of her praiseworthy initiatives. She mobilized a community of around 11,000 people across 82 villages to spend 1 day a year for the restoration of the villages. The villages lay close to 358 strategic erosion-prone locations that almost rendered it endangered, but her never-say-die spirit led to the people planting 3,82,000 plants and sowing over 70 kgs of seeds of various plant species. This indeed, is the marvellous fruit of service.
Jyotsna has indeed done some of the most incredible environmental works ever, in our country. What’s more, she has never let success get on to her head and is always on the lookout for more such opportunities to serve the environment and give her best to the society. An alumna of IIM Bangalore, currently she is the Project Director of Livelihood Improvement Project for the Himalayas, Uttarakhand. She is 49 and has till date chosen to stay single, and has adopted her caretaker maid’s family. Not only does this family live with her but Jyotsna is also deeply concerned about their son’s education. Hers is indeed a remarkable life that boasts of selfless service, undying perseverance and deep-rooted integrity. If she can do it, then so can many more! We simply need to awaken our dormant inner calling.