“Ecology is permanent economy”, this slogan was coined by the veteran Himalayan environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna. Like the legendary Gaura Devi, the feisty protagonist of the forest conservation Chipko (to embrace, to stick) movement of the 1970s in the hills of Uttarakhand, Sunderlal Bahuguna is one of the foremost names that come to mind when one thinks about the environmental movement. It was the village women in the far-flung district of Chamoli in Himalayan Uttarakhand who had hugged trees against the onslaught of the forest contractors. This was to become a landmark moment in the history of the state.
The belief and message of Chipko find resonance and meaning in any era and time. In 1980, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi paid heed and placed a fifteen-year ban on the felling of trees till the green cover was fully restored. Large scale limestone quarrying in the Doon valley was stopped due to similar efforts by activists and environmentalists alike. Various other movements across the country have been inspired by the Chipko ideology. But today it seems that Uttarakhand, and the political and official powers that are responsible for its governance, have either forgotten the ethos of Chipko or deliberately choose to ignore them.
Uttarakhand needs a new Chipko movement today, and it needs all its citizens to take a stand in this direction. The state government has proposed the acquisition of an 1128 acre tea garden in Dehradun for its Smart City plans. The land is being encroached in massive numbers in connivance with greedy politicians and colluding officials. Dubious builders and real estate mafia have made major inroads in the state. As the onslaught of environmental corruption breaks all barriers the need for another Chipko is being felt across the entire state.
The Forest Survey of India has recently reported that in the last two years 700 sq km of the state’s green, forested land has reduced. The scars of the widely reported Kedarnath tragedy of 2013 are still to be healed. Lessons seem unlearnt and forgotten. Rampant loot and mismanagement remain the hallmarks of the Harish Rawat led Congress government in the state. While the government fervently makes announcements about smart cities and modern cities with a reckless urban mindset its smartness in dealing with its natural resources and challenges appears visibly unsmart.
How can the state and its people move ahead? Pressure on resources has to be only to the extent that they can bear. Solutions have to be permanent. Policies need to be made keeping in mind the needs of the vast majority of its people and fine-tuned with environmental care. Biodiversity and ecological preservation need to be ingrained widely. For all of this to happen an entire shift in the mindset of individuals, communities and government has to take place.
This is where the Chipko thought process and actions are invaluable. With this spirit, green has to become the color of the mind, heart and the state. Green thinking, green politics and green future have to become the mantra for sustenance and growth in Uttarakhand. Policies in hill states cannot be like those of Delhi or Uttar Pradesh. The development has to focus on local realities and learnings. In such a scenario it is clearly the Chipko deeds of Gaura Devi, Sunderlal Bahuguna and others of their ilk which are suited for the present and future of the state. That would certainly be the most sensible thing to do for a Himalayan state like Uttarakhand.
Originally published in DailyO on Feb 3, 2016
(Author is the Founder Chairperson at SDC Foundation. He tweets at Anoopnautiyal1)