Jharkhand government to probe the matter, take action against the violators of Forest Act.
That the spread of fake information is a threat to society has been proved yet again. Believing rumours that bats residing in trees can spread coronavirus, the people of Chakulia, a village in Jharkhand, have chopped trees.
Yogendra Singh, a villager from Chakulia came to know about the deforestation when he went out for the first time since the lockdown was imposed. “I don’t know who cut the trees, but I heard the villagers did it to protect themselves from bats as they believe the animals can bring Covid-19. The trees are an important element in the creation of nature. One cannot cut it without the permission of the forest department. It is not just bats that live in the trees. I’ve seen other birds nesting as well. We can’t cut trees without knowing about the other birds’ habitat in the trees,” he said.
Mohammad Sajid, another villager, does not believe that bats can spread coronavirus as it is not proved by research. “Some trees in the village are peculiar and useful. People have cut down trees without knowing facts, that too without the permission of the forest department,” he said.
According to the Indian Forest Act, 1927, cutting down trees without permission can lead to three years of imprisonment or a penalty of Rs 10,000.
Arvind Ojha, Block Development Officer, Chakulia, said: “Cutting trees without permission is an offence. We have no idea that people are chopping trees in the village. I have directed the forest officer and guards to look into the matter. If the offence is proved, then serious action will be taken against the violators.”
Ranjit Singh, a forest officer, said he has sent forest guards to the village to probe the matter. “We are advising people to not cut trees as they are the forest department’s property. There is no proof that bats spread coronavirus among people.”
Scared over the spread of coronavirus, people tend to believe false information they receive on WhatsApp and other social media platforms. According to a report, it is not scientifically proven that bats can spread coronavirus.
K K Sharma, an environmentalist, is worried that cutting of trees can affect the environment adversely. “There is a belief in people’s mind that bats can cause Covid-19. The deforestation in Chakulia is a case where villagers believed misinformation about bats. Cutting trees is not a solution. The environment will be at stake if people start cutting trees believing fake information. The forest department should sensitize people and ask them to not believe such rumours,” he said.
Chakulia, 180 km from Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, falls under East Singhbhum district. Its population is around 16,306, according to the census report of 2011. It has an average literacy of 78.9%. The village is known for its lush green agricultural fields.
Most people in Chakulia are involved in the business of bamboo distribution. They trade the bamboo across the country.
Picture Courtesy : Abhishek Singh