There’s no end to the burdens of colonialism. It keeps demanding its pound of flesh, a rapacious deity committed to destruction with a missionary zeal long after it was seemingly vanquished. India has its share, from man-made famines that killed millions during British rule, to the present threat that looks like destroying our forests.

The Western Ghats, one of the centres of mega biodiversity in India, and others in central and north India are under attack from lantana, an invasive species of a shrub, introduced during the Raj by the government and private evangelists.

A native of South America, lantana made its first appearance as a hedge plant in the early 1800s. It soon escaped to the forests, and has since taken over some 13 million hectares. It covers the understorey—the species-rich area below the canopy of trees—in dense thickets, and smothers the native plants. Because of its denseness, it significantly increases the biomass of the understorey, making it susceptible to high-intensity forest fires that native shrubs and plants can’t survive.

It’s a battle that’s already been lost, if scientists at the forefront of research are to be believed. Even tribal communities who live in and off the forests think it is too late, writes Shamsheer Yousaf in this month’s cover story, “The forest killer”. The central government has no policy on lantana yet, and efforts to combat it across the country are isolated, individual initiatives.

The end of demonetisation and its perils are no closer than on the day the prime minister announced it to the nation. Since then there have been more than 60 notifications regulating the most basic of rights: that of citizens to access their own money. The golden gains promised seem like a fable, while the pain of the people is real. For sex workers, an unorganised, exploited segment, it has presented both opportunity and danger. They took advance payments in cancelled notes from regular clients, hiked rates and reduced session times. It got them the money, but the danger lies in cashing the windfall, writes Annam Suresh in her report, “A red letter day.”

Last year was a landmark year. The world lost great artistes, and leaders; the Middle East continued to implode creating a refugee crisis of historic proportions; and Donald Trump killed American exceptionalism with his victory in the presidential elections. At home, we have a maximum government enchanted with “surgical strikes” and “bold decisions”, all in the aggrandisement of one man.

The curse of interesting times is upon us in 2017.

Saurav Kumar

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