Jyotsna Sitling belongs to the `Lepcha’ tribal community of Kalimpong, West Bengal. Growing up, she loved plants and chose to study botany at the Darjeeling Government College. With a strong passion for ecological conservation, Jyotsna decided that forestry was her vocation. Soon after, she became the first Indian woman forester to join the Indian Forest Service (IFS) in 1987. Jyotsna believes that local community participation is necessary to perform groundbreaking action and find sustainable solutions to diverse environmental challenges. It was while working as Conservator at the Valley of Flowers National Park in Uttarakhand that she realized the importance to take more action. The ecological system of the valley in the upper Himalayan ridges at 6,675 metres was endangered due to the excessive abuse from the tourist visits every year. There were mountain-high piles of plastic and non-biodegradable waste strewn along the 19 km route. Further, some 400-odd shops illegally installed by locals had killed the local flora around. Jyotsna was determined to help redefine the tourism and solid waste management policy in the nascent state of Uttarakhand. Her first hurdle was convincing the local community and administration that it was possible to intergrate livelihood options with conservation practices making it a long-term solution.
Jyostna travelled far and wide giving focused awareness training and mentoring people to equip them with key skills. Finally, after working tirelessly for 14 months with complete help from the local people, the community managed to clear a whopping 44 tons of garbage. Today, the fragile eco-system of the entire valley is now safe. Jyostna’s dedicated community conservation efforts ultimately gave Valley of Flowers National Park a World Heritage Site status in 2005. Today, Jyotsna is working hard on increasing livelihood options in the Himalayas as the State Project Director at the biosphere reserve. Main story: Jyotsna is the recipient of Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Purushkar 2004 and Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration 2006 for her remarkable contribution in the public service.