Seeing the forests and the trees

A tribute to the Chipko movement in Poland  

COIMBATORE: Forest conservation is a well-established policy of governments aiming to ensure a constant supply of full-grown timber for construction and other purposes. Historically many rulers have enforced conservation. But, a few decades ago, the nature of tree conservation in India changed.

In 1974, a band of women in Latta village in the Himalayas, faced with loggers who were contracted to fell all the trees around the village, hugged the trees to stop the loggers. Their movement became known as Chipko.

The word means stick to. Although “tree huggers”, a term often used sarcastically, suggests a sentimental refusal to cut any tree, the villagers of Latta were in fact asserting their right to decide the fate of the forests in which they lived.

The Chipko movement gave rise to many similar resistance groups in India, including Appiko in Karnataka, as well as laws that restored some control over forests to the people living in and around them.

The Save Silent Valley movement of the 1970s focused on preserving a particularly rich biosphere in Palakkad District, Kerala, rather than on access to forest resources. When a hydroelectric dam was proposed on the site, naturalists campaigned for more than a decade, starting with letters to the editor and ending with direct appeals to the Prime Minister.

The heated debates over conservation versus development, catchily phrased as “man or monkey”, raged till Indira Gandhi declared Silent Valley would be protected. The hydroelectric project was scrapped soon after and, in 1985, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi inaugurated the Silent Valley National Park.

The Jungle Bachao Andolan took shape in the early 1980s when the government proposed to replace the natural sal forest of Singhbhum District, Bihar, with commercial teak plantations. But, long before the Jungle Bachao Andolan of what is now Jharkhand, this region had seen rebellion, victory and loss in the Adivasis’ struggle to live and work in their own forests. The movement, which spread to nearby states, has highlighted the gap between the Forest Department’s aims and the people’s.

Today there are conservation movements throughout the country that integrate waste management, preservation of wildlife, cleaning of lakes and rivers, and tree planting. Industrial forces are often able to frame their argument with environmentalists in simplistic terms, but the complex interactions of man, monkey, lake and forest, and our need for all these together, can no longer be denied.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 1:03:13 PM |

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