Is the Chipko Movement Towards Forest Appraisal.

“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 Forest Department was established and the first Forest Act was legislated under the guidance of Dietrich Brandis, a German Botanist, the first Inspector General of Forests. He made a record of trees in India and classified them. In 1865, the first Act for the regulation of forests was passed. It gave the power to the government to declare all lands covered with trees and or brushwood as government forest and to make rules to manage them. This Act is applicable only to all the forests which are under the government control which made no provision for the rights of the users.

The Act of 1865 was replaced by a more comprehensive Indian Forest Act of 1878 which divided forests into protected forests, reserved forests and village forests. Several restrictions were imposed upon the people’s rights over the forest land and produce in the protected and reserved forests. Further, the Act empowered the local government to impose duty on timber produced in British India or brought from any other place whereby encouraging them to earn revenue from forests. Infact, this Act radically changed the common property into State property. It then resulted into protests which fuelled a wide ranging debate on the reform of forest policy, to make it more democratic and accountable and into argument that State-citizen relations in the realm of forestry have gone through four overlapping stages: conflict, conversation, negotiation, and abrogation.

The government declared its forest policy by a resolution on 19th October, 1894 which stressed on State control over forests and the need to exploit forests for augmenting state revenue. This resulted into the enactment of Indian Forest Act of 1927 replacing the earlier Act of 1878 which includes all the major provisions of the earlier Act, extending it to include those relating to the duty of timber, which is still in force together with several amendments made by State Governments with the enactment of the Government of India Act, 1935, giving a clear emphasis on the revenue yielding aspect of forests.

Historically, the Indian Himalayan region which was under the control of foreigners, especially Britishers and Germans, since 1855, used to produce lumber for railroads. Further, the then government nationalized one-fifth of the total forest area and enacted legislation in this regard. To make things still worse, the Indian Forests Act of 1878 restricted the peasant access to those forest areas not deemed commercially economical and sanctions were levied on those who violated such restrictions. As a step forward, the Forest department passed an order to excavate the complete forest land area, mainly by cutting down the ash trees, to utilise the same for commercial purposes. This approach developed the revolutionary attitude among the Himalayan residents, mainly one person called Shri Chandi Prasad Bhatt, leader of Dasholi Gram Swarajya Sangh, who had been converted to the idea of Sarvodaya by Sunderlal Bahuguna some years earlier suggested to hug the trees when the fellers came to cut down of trees. Particulary women and their children hugged the trees to prevent them from felling thereby giving birth to Chipko Movement in 1973.

The Chipko Movement – a green venture started by Shri Sunderlal Bahuguna, Leader of Sarvodaya Movement, in the first half of 1973 in the area of Uttarkhand in Uttarpradesh comprising of eight Himalayan districts which is rich in natural resources exploited by the outsiders paving way to deforestation. Infact, the state managed Forest Department used the most of the forests for timber showing no attention towards the employment and welfare of the local people and towards serious ecological damage arising out of such deforestation. This seriously had a negative impact on economic and social conditions in the Himalayan region. The most affected are the local people, mainly the women. In this movement especially the women hugged the trees by interposing their bodies between the trees and the contractor’s axes.

The advent of independence and the dawn of the princely states unfortunately accelerated the deforestation in the Himalayan region. The formulation of new guiding principles towards economic growth and development made the government to extract natural resources on an unreasonable scale which even exceeded to that of the colonial era which badly effected the conditions for forest ecosystems and destabilized the hill communities. Further, end of the border war between China and India in 1962 resulted in the construction of roads by logging many trees in the forests though initially accepted by the local people for the employment, these infrastructure projects are created but had a considerable adverse impact on the hill society that remains in effect even today. These negative impacts on the Himalayan ecology and society resulted in further growth and success of the Chipko Movement against deforestation.

Inspired from Chipko Movement, many popular movements developed with an objective to protect and manage natural resources for the benefit of the rural population in many parts in India. In Bihar and Gujarat, these movements arose to revolt against conversion of natural forests to teak plantations, a move which deprived the indigenous forest-dwelling Adivasi people of their only resource base. Further, in Karnataka, the Appiko Movement arose when the forest service did nothing to stop the activities of the contractors who were felling 35 trees per hectare instead of the stipulated 2 per hectare.

After independence, the Constitution of India adopted a number of provisions from the Government of India Act of 1935 and retained forest as a state subject in the 7th schedule. The National Forest Policy Resolution adopted by the government in 1952 stressed that the forest policy shall be on national needs but not on commerce, industry and revenue. For the first time, the resolution highlighted on the ecological and social aspects of forest management. But this remained as a pious declaration without any execution.

The Ministry of Forest was initially a part of the Ministry of Agriculture which the National Commission on Agriculture treated it as such. The National Commission supported the commercialization of forests giving no importance to the survival of adivasi and other forest dwelling communities because it is on the strong belief that they have not contributed much towards the maintenance or development of forests and so they don’t have the right to expect that somebody else provide them with the forest produce with free of charge. Further, the commission recommended that the revised National Forest Policy be formulated basing on the important needs of the country, the forest lands be bifurcated into protection forests, production forests and social forests giving high priority to production forests and least to social forests, with the object that the forest management be that each hectare of forest land shall be in a position to yield a net income of many more times than is being obtained at present. For this purpose it further recommended to the revision of all India Forest Acts.

In 1985, the Forest Department was shifted from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of Environment and Forests thereby changing the emphasis from revenue to environmental concerns. In December, 1988, the Parliament passed a new forest policy resolution called the National Forest Policy, 1988 rejecting the recommendations of the National Commission and emphasizing on the welfare of the adivasis and other forest dwelling communities. As per this policy, the survival of adivasis and other forest dwelling communities revolves within and near the forests which is to be fully protected. But in spite of this resolution which was a pro-tribal policy, the old Act of 1927 with all the subsequent amendments remained unchanged.

In 1994, the Ministry of Environment and Forests prepared a draft of the new bill called the Conservation of Forests and Natural Eco-Systems Bill, 1994 to replace the Indian Forests Act, 1927 which generated a lot of debate on it. Infact, a number of voluntary organizations presented an alternate draft and submitted it to the Ministry of Environment and Forest. The bill was not presented to the Parliament and the old Forest Act, 1927 with all its subsequent amendments is still in operation.

Some salient features of the draft bill prepared by Voluntary Organizations are as follows:

  1. Preamble has been expanded to include the objectives of meeting the basic needs of the people, especially fuel-wood, fodder and small timber for rural and tribal people and maintaining the intrinsic relationship between forests and the tribal and other poor people living in and around forests by protecting their customary rights and concessions on forests as laid down in the National Forest Policy Resolutions 1998.
  2. Definition of Gramsabha, Resident, Community and monoculture have been added.
  3. In place of Forest Settlement Officer, Forest Settlement Board has been suggested with its composition and thereafter Forest Settlement Board has replaced the Forest Settlement Officer.
  4. References to practice of Shifting Cultivation in Chapter 11 on Reserved Forests, Chapter -III on Protected Forest and Chapter V on the Conservation of Forest and Lands, not being the Property of Government has been deleted and a separate Chapter 4A on Shifting Cultivation has been added.
  5. Rules for the publication of notice to constitute a Reserved Forest or a protected Forest have been explained in detail.
  6. The Provisions of penalize the entire community by taking away its right to pasturage or to forest produce in case of willfully caused fire etc. have been deleted.
  7. Procedure of formation of Village Forests, and in particular constitution of Village Forests committees has been elaborated in detail and their powers expanded.
  8. The powers of management have been given to the State Forest Committee instead of the Forest Officer.
  9. The constitution of Urban Tree Authority has been changed and the formation of Urban Forest Committees has been suggested.
  10. The constitution of Central Forest Policy and Law Monitoring Committee has been amended. A new committee called State Forest Policy and Law Monitoring Committee (in brief Central Forest committee) has been suggested and the powers Forest Officers have been made subject the control of State Forest Committee.
  11. New Committees called District Forest Committee have been suggested at the District level and the major decisions relating to the forest in the District have been made subject to their sanction.
  12. It has been specifically mentioned that the Act will be extended to the States in the North East India and the scheduled areas only after necessary amendments have been made.

All these and other amendments have been suggested to encourage the preservation and development of the forest more participatory and effective and to achieve the main objective of Forest Policy Resolution 1988 of creating a massive people’s movement with the involvement of women, for achieving these objectives and to minimize pressure on existing forest.

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