101Kidz : Wildlife : Environment Thoughts


History Of The Chipko Movement In The Himalayas
The chipko movement is historically, philosophically and organi sationally an extension of the traditional Gandhian satyagraha. Its special significance lies in the fact that it took place in post independent India.
In an article, 'Something Wrong in the Himalaya' Mira Behn, a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi wrote,

Year after year the floods in the North of India seem to be getting worse, and this year they have been absolutely devastating. This means that there is something radically wrong in the Himalayas, and that 'something' is, without doubt, connected with the forests. It is not, I believe, just a matter of deforestation as some people think, but largely a matter of change of species.

Living in the Himalayas as I have been continuously now for several years, I have become painfully aware of a vital change in species of trees which is creeping up and up the southern slopes-those very slopes which let down the flood waters on to the plains below. This deadly changeover is from Banj (Himalayan Oak) to Chir pine. It is going on at an alarming speed, and because it is not a matter of deforestation, but of change from one kind of forest to another, it is not taken sufficiently seriously. In fact the quasi-commercial Forest Department is inclined to shut its eyes to the phenomenon, because the Banj brings them in no cash for the coffers, whereas the Chir pine is very profitable, yielding as it does both timber and resins.

The Banj leaves, falling as they do, year by year, create a rich black mould in which develops a thick tangled mass of undergrowth (bushes, creepers, and grasses), which in their turn add to the leaf-mould deposit and the final result is a forest in which almost all the rain water becomes absorbed. Some of it evaporates back into the air and the rest percolates slowly down, to the lower altitudes, giving out here and there beautiful sweet and cool springs. It would be difficult to imagine a more ideal shock absorber for the monsoon rains than a Banj forest.

The Chir pine produces just the opposite effect. It creates with its pine needles a smooth, dry carpet, which absorbs nothing and which at the same time prevents the development of any undergrowth worth the name. In fact, often the ground in a Chir pine forest is as bare as a desert. When the torrential rains of the monsoon beat down on these southern slopes of the Himalayas, much of the pine-needle carpet gets washed away with the water and erosion invariably takes place, because these needles, being non-absorbent, create no leaf-mould, but only a little very inferior soil, which is easily washed out from the rocks and stones.

The Chipko movement is the contemporary expression of a continuing heritage of peaceful resistance by the people of the Himalayas.
Raturi, a local poet composed his famous poem describing the method of embracing the trees to save them from felling:

Embrace the trees and
Save them from being felled;
The property of our hills,
Save them from being looted.

While the concept of saving trees from felling by embracing them is old in Indian culture, in the context of the current phase of the movement for forest rights in Uttarakhand this popular poem written in 1972 is the earliest source of the now famous name 'Chipko'(to hug). In 1973 the tempo of the movement reached new heights. The first popular action to chase contractors away erupted spontaneously in the region, when the villagers demonstrated against the felling of ash trees in Mandal forest. The Chipko activists followed the axemen and encouraged people to oppose them wherever they went. Later in December 1973, there was a militant non-violent demonstration in Uttarkashi in which thousands of people participated. In March 1974, twenty-seven women under the leadership of Goura Devi saved a large number of trees from a contractor's axe in Reni. Following this, the government was forced to abolish the private contract system of felling and in 1975 the Uttar Pradesh Forest Corporation was set up to perform this function.