She is the first female IFS officer, a great leader who has spent her entire life working towards restoring our eco system. From cleaning up hills to providing jobs to the locals, she is trying her best to protect the environment. Meet Jyotsna Sitling, 45, who won the prestigious Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar, the country’s highest environmental honour given to anyone till date.
Hailing from a small village in West Bengal, she would go on to change the fate of the Himalayan region. An avid trekker and nature lover- she was always fascinated by the flora and fauna.
Appointed as a director of Nanda Devi National Park (NDNP), Uttarakhand in 2002, Jyotsna saw a challenge to regenerate the area of Uttarakhand. The Nanda Devi reserve has two parks - the Valley of Flowers National Park and the Nanda Devi National Park.
The Valley of Flowers National Park hosts a buffer zone with a 19-km trail that leads to Hemkund Sahib, the highest Gurdwara in the world. Irresponsible behaviour of the annual traffic of 600,000 pilgrims on this route had wrecked its beautiful surroundings, resulting in the accumulation of tons of stinking plastic and other dumps.
At once, Jyotsna decided to start campaigning by involving the local community. After working tirelessly for 14 months, Sitling's team collected a whopping 44 tonnes of garbage in 14,000 gunny bags! Tonnes of mule dung was also collected, as about 500 mules make daily to-and-fro trips during the five-month pilgrimage season. The filth was then transported on horseback to Govindghat and then to Delhi for recycling. And despite the magnitude of garbage, no shortcuts like burning or burying were resorted to. This was crucial to save the ecologically sensitive and unique Valley of Flowers National Park.
This was just the start of Jyotsna’s mission. Her greater challenge was to convince the resident business population, about 76 families in all - to demolish their 400 shacks and combine them into 76 shops - one shop per family. These were unorganized shops that massively contributed to polluting the trek trail to the Gurdwara. For Jyotsna, environmental sustainability was equally as important as the lives of residents staying there. Staying calm and focussed, Jyotsna spoke to the residents about the damage that is being done to the area in which the residents were staying.
After speaking to them, they were convinced and eventually the shops came down from 400 to 76. Not only was it a huge relief for the Valley of Flowers, eventually even the people saw that Jyotsna’s idea worked well for them. She started an Eco- Development Committee (EDC), the eco fee introduced helped in raising capital for cleaning operations and for build services for the pilgrims like insurance policies, providing rented plastic coats helped in creating a link between the livelihood of locals with environmental sustainability.
Her hard work paid off when UNESCO declared the Valley of Flowers as a World Heritage site.
A great example that showcases nothing is impossible if people work together. She’s undoubtedly doing some awesome work!