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Is the Chipko Movement Towards Forest Appraisal

 by: M.Aparna

"Let us protect and plant the trees


Go awaken the villages


And drive away the axemen."


- Ghanshyam Sailani

The forests of India are the unique resources for the survival of the rural people of India which were exploited greatly for commerce and industry. The Chipko Movement of India taken birth in Himalayan foothills gained great significance throughout the world's environmentalist circles for its successful efforts against deforestation. Chipko, which means literally "to embrace" has spread to many other parts of India and has drawn worldwide attention for its resourceful efforts to fight against deforestation and thereby protecting ecology and society. Women played a unique role in making success of the Chipko Movement because they being the dependents on the fuel, wood and fodder for survival found it difficult to procure them for over the last several decades.

In an Indian Civil Society, the workday of the women starts early in the morning. Particulary in the hilly areas, they should fetch water, grind wheat for bread, fulfil the needs of the husband and children, and finally sets out to forest for fuelwood, grass and leaf fodder for animals, etc. Bearing bundles on the head for hours they come home before noon and prepare mid-day meal. Durning the dry season, when upto 80% of the livestock feed is supplied by the forests, their afternoons are also taken up to search for the leaf fodder. This is the need of the forests for the women and her family's survival.

The forests in the Himalayas play the same role today - two harvests in a year, i.e, rice and millets in the monsoon season and wheat in winter, observing a heavy toll on nutrients in the soil. To make for the shortage of the nutrients it is necessary to collect organic matter in the form of leaf fodder and leaf litter over extensive areas of the forest which may be as large as thirty times the size of a typical cultivated field. If the distance between the village and the forest becomes too far, or if there are no more trees, then it is impossible for the women to bring enough organic matter to keep the nutrient supply in balance. To compensate this shortage, it becomes necessary to burn dried dung in place of fuelwood which further results into fertiliser deficit resulting into poorer harvests and even lower yields of buffalo milk. Further towards compensation of this food shortages, women are many a times forced to sell their gold jewellery and other costly important items which are originally intended to keep as a dowry for their daughters.

In the 19th century, British colonial administrators in India took control of vast areas of forestland and subsequently exploited them through Imperial Forest Service where a reasonable portion of this land was originally been managed communally in accordance with the local rules and regulations. With the advent of British Raj (Colonial Rule) conflicts broke out between rural population and the Forest Service because the village systems of resource use broke down and forest degradation accelerated rapidly. The Chipko Movement, founded in 1973 was the outcome of this conflict, started with an objective to conserve forest in the Himalayas.

Deforestation on the hills is at peak during British rule being they did it greatly to fulfil their commercial ends because of which the hill stations rapidly became black holes as wood is needed to fire limestone and large quantities of timber for the construction of government offices, official residences and for infrastructures to make their rule convenient, effective and commercial, which were architecturally of very high standard and costly to both economy and ecology. In 1844 an English contractor named Wilson obtained a concession from the Feudal Lord of Tehri-Garhwal permitting him to harvest Himalayan cedars which grew at altitudes above 1,800m and had to be rafted for months down the Ganges to reach the plains. Wilson's contract permitted him to fell as many trees as per his requirement for a fee of 400 rupees per year for twenty years which resulted into disappearance of the magnificent cedars within a span of a decade.

The arrogance or exploitation of power was apparent at a Forest Service Conference in 1875 where it openly declared that the "victor" is entitled to enjoy the "rights of conquest" which gives a clear admission of the rationale behind the setting aside of reserved forests in accordance with the provisions contained in the Forest Act of 1878. Reserved Forests which ordinarily covered the half of the total area of the village had been foreseen wherever timber was produced profitably or where the forest had a protective function. It became the property of the colonial government immediately after the available rights like right to obtain leaf fodder or to graze goats had been rescinded and after informing the local population through a public notice.

In 1920 Mohandas Gandhi, who lead India to Independence in 1947, began his first nation-wide campaign of civil disobedience to protest unjust laws. Gandhiji characterized the newly established forest reserves as a symbol of oppression. However, in the following year, the local population as a regular practice just before commencement of monsoons set fire to forests of Chir, a newly established reserved forests by the British Government owing to the World War I, so that the coming rains would generate the growth of hardy fodder in soil fertilized by ashes. But this year the fire broke out wildly consuming hundreds of thousands of pines known as Chir which resulted into the regional protest by people in the Himalayan Foothills forcing the British Government to abandon the newly established reserved forests.

>From 1920 onwards the population growth increased steadily, particularly in the lowlands. Timber was transported from the hills to the lowlands where it was a great demand for energy and construction. Very often it was auctioned even before it is felled. The forest officials closed their eyes towards this slipshod (Slipshod means without any authorisation and recklessly) felling and the inclination of the contractors to fell the timber even where it has not been marked. Infact they even exercised strict police powers in dealing with the local people like destroying sickles which women used to cut branches and meted out with severe punishment even for petty offences. Further, successful contractors appointed the workforce for a low wage from outside places in place of the resident population. This phenomenon resulted into very costly for the ecology, economy and residents especially.

The significance of forests on environment and society is first recognized primarily by the women in India when the deforestation was taking place in the Himalayan Mountains of India where the forests are logged excessively. The Chipko Movement was a revolutionary step adopted to save Himalayan ecology and society from deforestation. Women, the badly effected class due to deforestation, were simply the strongest, dedicated and the active participants in this movement. Infact, besides environmental movement it was a women's movement where a women played a vital role within the Chipko Movement against the State for more promising logging and forestry policies so that both the Himalayan environment and society are protected.

Devoid of good forests in England, the British realized the commercial value of Indian Forests and attempted to hold rigid control over them. Accordingly, the Governor General, Lord Dalhousie issued a memorandum on forest conservation called the charter of Indian Forests through which he suggested that the teak, timber, etc be as State Property and its trade be strictly regulated. This paved the beginning for a systematic forest policy of 1855.

During 1856, the Fores

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