Nepali Times
Help save the Chure Hills


ACUTE BALDNESS: The Chure is being indiscriminately mined for sand, stones, and aggregates for the construction of India's highways, irrigation canals, and cities.

In all the talk about the high Himalaya, the Mahabharat Range and the Tarai, the Chure Hills always fall between the cracks. These first wrinkles of the mighty Himalaya stretch from Mechi to Mahakali, they are a treasure trove of biodiversity, and have an environmental importance that few are aware of.

The Chure Hills are made of soft material, sand, sediment, and boulders, uplifted relatively recently in geological time as part of the formation of the Himalayan mountains. Because of their composition, the hills are much more sensitive to the loss of vegetation and other human activity, the impact of which can be felt downstream in the Nepal Tarai and down to India. This is why President Ram Baran Yadav has made saving the Chure Hills one of his priorities.

The biodiversity of the Chure forests is much greater than other parts of Nepal, and it is under severe threat. During the Rana era, the majestic hardwood timber from the sal forests of the Chure were exported to India to be turned into railway ties. Today, the Chure is being indiscriminately mined for sand, stones, and aggregates for the construction of India's highways, irrigation canals, and cities. The tragedy of it is that this is making the plains of India and Nepal prone to disastrous floods.

When the Chure loses its forests and huge gashes are opened up on its slopes by quarries, the monsoon rains can wash down the whole mountain. In Jhapa, the Ratuwa Khola used to flow under a bridge, now the sediment washed down from the Chure has buried the bridge itself.

The Chure is being desertified, and the forests have lost their indigenous King Cobra, and the world's largest flying bird, the stork. The pythons here are also threatened because of habitat loss, as is the pygmy hog. Naturalist Karna Shakya did his research on the pygmy hog decades ago. Shakya is still around, but the pygmy hog can't be found anywhere, anymore.

What protected the forests of the Chure and the inner Tarai for centuries was malaria. But after the advent of DDT and the eradication of the malaria mosquito, the area became habitable. There was encroachment of the Chure from both the south and the north, entire villages were translocated from the mountains and these fragile hills didn't stand a chance.

King Mahendra's plan was to settle people south of the East-West Highway and preserve the jungles to the north of the road. But that policy was never properly implemented, and the forests on the slopes of the Chure started balding. Now that the trees are gone, the next to go are the boulders, sand, and stones.

Nepal's soil, sand, stones, and boulders are being taken out of the country without revenue, without permission, in a wanton destruction of our natural heritage. They say Nepal is 'landlocked', it looks these days more like a country without 'locks'. But the politicians in Kathmandu with their power-addled brains have no time to think about this frightening destruction that will have far-reaching impact on the economy, livelihood, and future existence of our nation.

The politicians have slogans for state restructuring, but the Chure range that stretches from east to west doesn't register in anyone's consciousness. We are not worried about the indigenous inhabitants of the Chure like the Tharu, Chepang, Danuwar, Muhasar, and others. Neither are we worried about what the environmental destruction of the Chure will do to downstream plains with long-term consequences to Nepal's Pahad-Tarai and India's Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Enough words, let's act now to save the Chure Hills.

Tirtha Bahadur Shrestha, PhD, is a noted Nepali botanist, who has extensively studied Nepal's endemic plantlife.

See also:
Crisis in Chure

Out on a limb, DEWAN RAI
Nepal's forests are threatened by politicians protecting illegal loggers and corrupt forest officials

The on again off again ban on sand and stone exports to India has all but wiped out local crusher industries

1. Sashi B Bisht

After the formation of the Churiya hills, natural erosion in geological time led to the unconsolidated deposition at its base and is commonly referred to as the Bhabar zone of Nepal. The Bhabar zone is the main recharge area of the ground water system of the gangetic plains, one of the largest ground water reservoirs in the world. In destabilizing the Churiya hills by wanton human activity, the largest ground water system of South Asia is going to be adversely affected. Greed is intoxicating and mostly leads to piles of money. But after all is gone, one cannot eat money to survive. I can only pray that good sense will prevail before people realize that greed will cost them and the future generation dearly.

2. suji
The writer has laid out the problem clearly. What I do not agree with writer is about the recent activities. Historically, the massive deforestation of Churi Hills have happened in Panchayat era when Surya B. Thapa led the massive deforestation so that 2036 will be settled for Panchayat. Yes! the recent boom in construction across all of the terai towns are supported by sand and cobble stones from churi this started when Mahendra build the highway so as to settle the people along the highway which is around the churi hills. 

The discussion of state restructuring should give priority around the environmental problems because our civil society and politicians are focused on dividing the country across the federal lines when important environmental issues such as depleting natural source of water does not become a priority. 

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)