Seventh Evelyn Hursey and Khwaja Gulam-us Saiyidain Memorial Lecture
Delivered at Delhi School of Social Work in-1985
This is an introductory report of an ecological movement going on in the Western Ghat region of Karnataka. An attempt is made to present the movement in a historical context. This report draws upon the experience of local people.
The Western Ghat mountain range from Gujarat to Kerala plays a crucial role in maintaining the environmental stability of the Deccan plateau. Important rivers like Krishna, Bhima, Cauvery and Tungabhadra originate from the thick forests of Western Ghats. The whole Western Ghat belt forms the catchment area of important rivers of South India. The forests of this region are known as tropical forests, which bring rain by intercepting monsoon winds. Amidst the green hills, there are small patches of cultivable land. The area is famous for black-pepper, cardamom, arecanut (Supari), coffee and banana. The forests have proved to be the perennial source of water to the region and have also made possible continuous supply of green manure. The total self-reliant life style of people has thus remained integrated with nature
Uttara Kannada District is located on the northern tip of Karnataka, touching the Arabian Sea. It lies in the midst of the Western Ghat belt of the Sahyadri range. The district used to be the southern most part of the erstwhile Bombay State and it was regarded as one of the most backward districts. It became part of the new State of Mysore following the formation of linguistic states in November 1956 (now known as Karnataka). There has been considerable development of the district since then and especially during the past two decades. The district now ranks fifth among the 19 districts of the state on the socio-economic ladder. The percapita income of the district was RS. 406/- in 1977-78 (at 1960-61 prices). The population of the district, according to 1981 census, is 10 Iakhs, the fourth lowest in the state. The density of population is l04sq. km. per person. It is predominantly a rural district having only three towns with a population of about 50,000.
While urban poverty in the area is very high, rural poverty is very low. According to one study (Thimmaiah), the percentage of people below poverty line among the rural population of the district was 17.43 per cent in 1974-75, whereas for the state as a whole it was 30.65 per cent. The percentage of literacy according to 1981 census is 48 for the district, and it ranks fourth in the state in terms of literacy. Male and female literacy rates are 57 and 38 respectively. In terms of male and female literacy rates also, the district retains its high rank.
The main occupation is agriculture. The net area sown as percentage to total geographical area is 10.3 per cent. Even without any irrigation facilities the district ranks fifth highest in rice production (1979-80: 133.5 tons) for the state. Rice is the staple diet of people. The district also stands as the third highest in the state in the production of banana (1979-80: 5.5. tons). The average size of operational holding is 1.3 hectares (1976-77). In terms of average yield of food grains (1354 kgs. per hectare), the district ranks second in the state.
Topographically the district is divided into the coastal belt and the hill section. There are, in all, eleven Talukas (tehsils) of which five are in the coastal belt and the remaining six are in the hilly areas of Sahyadri range. In the latter group are: Sirsi, Siddapur, Yellapur, Supa, Haliyal and Mundgod. The district was aptly called the "Forest District." as it had 80.8 per cent of its geographical area under forest, ranking fifth among other forest districts in the country. The annual average rainfall is 2764 mms.
Out of its total forest area, 80.2 per cent is Reserve Forest which is exclusively under the control of the Forest Department for its own utilization. Protected Forests include 6.55 per cent of the total forest area, on which some concessions and privileges are allowed to local people. Village Forests occupy 0.2 per cent of the forest area and they are meant for the benefit of the people in the villages under community ownership. The revenue earned by exploiting forest resource (in 1982-83) was RS.40 crores or the state and the share of Uttar Kannada was Rs. 21 crores, which is more than half of the total forest revenue of the State.
There was a harmonious relationship between people and nature for a long time which was disturbed by the British rule. The forest was a community asset belonging to the people in the villages. The British, with a view to acquire control over this resource, took away the community right over forests. This resulted in people's revolt. One of the earliest movements against forest takeover was in 1831 which continued till 1837. This was popularly known as "Royta Kootas" (Farmers' Meet). The European soldiers were brought from far off plains of Bijapur to crush this revolt. After a century in 1930, the people started a movement, "Jungle Satyagraha" to oppose the oppressive forest policy of the British government. It continued for four years from 1930 to 1934 and coincided with the civil disobedience movement started by Gandhiji. This movement opposed the British forest policy, which was based on exploring forest wealth to meet the ever increasing demand of growing cities and industries, thus ignoring the interest of rural people.
From 1883 onwards the British exploited forests in this area to grow plantations of teak. Even after independence the forest policy remained unchanged. The main thrust of the policy was to destroy tropical forests by raising monoculture plantations of teak and eucalyptus. Thus the commercial exploitation of forests continued even after independence under the name of "Scientific Management". The removal of mixed species of forests has caused irreversible damage to the eco-system. The poorest group of people staying amidst forest have been the worst sufferers of this policy of so-called scientific management of forest resources.
The destruction of natural forest in the catchment areas of rivers and hill slopes has also led to the high rate of soil erosion. Due to the removal of tree cover, sunrays hit the top soil which gets loosened and is washed off in the rainy season. Thereafter the ground becomes hard like brick. This process is known as laterisation. The natural regeneration is affected adversely, and the area 'is converted into a barren land with laterite rocks.
There is a definite co-relation between the disappearance of wild life and the removal of mixed forests. Putta Gowda, an 80 year old man from Kabbe village said, "About 60 years back I have seen here wild elephants in herds. Bisons were common till 20 years back. There were tigers, deer and wild dogs, wild goats, wolves and a variety of birds. This is all history. Now we have only wild pigs, rabbits and monkeys". Putta Pakir Siddi of Mundige Jaddi said; "Now wild pigs have increased because the wild dogs which ate wild pigs have disappeared. There is no other animal which eats wild pigs." Thus the natural balance of wild life has been disturbed causing irreversible damage. Many species of wild life are now extinct. The monoculture plantation is not a proper habitat for wild life. The recent invasion of epitorium weed is also a major cause affecting the natural habitat of wild life.
The erratic rains have affected the agricultural yield. They have caused soil erosion leading to silting of tanks and dams, eventually affecting irrigation pattern. The scarcity of perennial water resources has affected the garden crop of cardamom and areca nut. The availability of green leaves for manure has decreased. The plantation of teak and eucalyptus has left the fields dry. Farmers are now unable to sow the fields in time. The cattle do not get enough fodder. While mixed forests contained varieties of trees and herbs of medicinal quality, they have now become extinct, and there is no local medicinal base. The honey trees are cut down by WIMCO, a multinational enterprise for matchwood, and by the plywood factories. Uttara Kannada was known for its black pepper. Now this major cash crop is wiped out totally by a new and unknown root disease. The whole self-reliant life style of the people is now threatened due to the damage caused to eco-systems.
The denudation of tropical forests is like eating ones’ own capital stock. The rate of soil erosion has increased greatly in recent times causing flash floods. The hydro-electric darns have been affected by silting. Clearing of catchment areas of rivers has led to drying up of rivers in summer months. The forest cover is not so dense as to attract cloud. This has led to erratic rainfall in the whole Deccan plateau and also the Western Ghats.
After independence the Indian government continued the colonial forest policy of commercial exploitation of tropical forests. In addition to this, new developmental schemes were introduced in the region which aggravated the already worsening forest cover.
Uttar Kannada district, with 81 per cent of its geographical area under forests was categorized as a 'backward' district. Development of industries, it was assumed, would remove this back-wardness. Major forest-based industries like paper mill and plywood factories were established. To exploit the water resources, a series of hydro-electric dams were constructed submerging large tracts of forest and agricultural land. The displaced people from these submerged areas were rehabilitated in new habitat by felling virgin forests in catchment areas of rivers. These major development schemes made an adverse impact on the ecosystem. They consumed a large area of natural forests in a short span of time, resulting in the reduction of forest cover in the district from 81 per cent in 1950-51 to 25 per cent in 1982-83. These three major ‘p’s-paper, plywood and power, resulted in the creation of ultimate 'P' that is, increasing 'Poverty' in the district, by destroying the resource base.
The cumulative effect of these developmental schemes was devastating. The rainfall pattern changed drastically, adversely affecting the rain fed agricultural economy, by reducing the crop- yields. The natural springs and streams dried up. This led to water scarcity. The natural forests were replaced with teak and eucaly-ptus plantations. This reduced the availability of green manure and fodder. The local herbs and medicinal plants in the natural forests became extinct. The area which was known as 'Pepper Queen' In the seventeenth century, has now become devoid of pepper.
The Uttara Kannada has witnessed struggles of man for exploiting the natural resources. The sustainable resource use of the earlier century was replaced by unsustainable policies in the guise of 'scientific forestry' and development. People gradually experienced the ill effects of these non-sustainable policies and resisted further destruction of their resource base. They organized themselves against the construction of a hydel dam across Bedthi river. This movement against the proposed hydel dam attracted nationwide attention and the government was compelled to shelve the project. During this movement Chipko leaders from the Himalayas visited Uttara Kannada. The interaction between the Chipko activists and local people led to the sowing of seeds of Chipko. Their sprouting and striking deep roots took the shape of a local movement, known-as “Appiko” (embrace).
From Chipko to Appiko
Like a migrating bird the idea of embracing trees to them travelled to South India. It reached Uttara Kannada district in Karnataka, a region well known for its forest resources.
Salkani is a small village in the valley of Western Ghats. The area is well known for cardamom and areca gardens. People with small holdings cultivate the land with the help of perennial streams. There is a thick forest near the village. It is known as “Ammanavara Kadu” or "Forest of the Goddess". There is a tradition among the nearby villages to worship this Goddess during the early days of spring. A large number of people including men, women and children participate in this yearly worship. Every year the people gather at a fixed place, worship the forest deity and prepare food in the forest. In April, 1983, when they went to the forest to worship they were shocked to observe the devastation of the forest. The Forest Department had allowed the plywood factory to fell trees in this area. The thick forest was changed into a barren site. Villagers were also shocked to observe that the streams passing through the forest were almost dry. All the villagers, especially the youth, decided to organize the villagers against tree felling. They discussed the issue of tree felling with other village people. A consensus was reached to write protest letters to the Forest Department and to the concerned ministers. They feared shortage of fuel-wood and water. Their main concern was drying up of Stearns which was the life blood their agricultural activities.
During the same time some youth groups of Gubbigadde village were, seriously thinking of measures to stop deforestation. The Government Forest Department was planning to clear fell 40 hectares of natural forest and subsequently to plant teak in that area. However, a large area of natural forest near the village and elsewhere was clearfelled during the previous years. This had an adverse effect on the local economy, destabilizing the delicate ecological equilibrium. With such evidence in front of them, the youth group decided to organize public opinion against felling of natural forests. The youth club of the local village took the responsibility of organizing village meetings. They also wrote a memorandum to higher forest officials. The officials warned the people not to create any hindrance in forest felling as they were following the scientific principle in felling these natural forests. The people replied to them by confirming their determination to launch a movement to protect the trees.
In the meantime, Sunderlal Bahuguna, one of the leaders of the Chipko movement visited Karnataka. The youth club contacted Bahuguna and invited him to Gubbigadde. village. In a small school building Bahuguna gave an interesting account of the non- violent struggle in the Himalayas. The speech by this white-bearded man, with sparkling eyes, moved the people in the audience. Many of them had come from the nearby villages. There were both men and women who asked interesting questions. They asked as to how they could save the forest. Bahuguna told them the approach of non-violence by embracing trees. At the end, the people took an oath to save their forest by embracing trees. This important meeting of the Chipko Leader in the south Indian -village took place on the 15th August, 1983. It gave an opportunity to share the experiences of Chipko movement in the north. The youth club intensified its campaign to save the trees. Many young people responded. There was hectic activity all around and people seemed to be determined to launch Chipko in their village.
In the early days of September, 1983, the Forest Department started falling trees in the Kalase Forest. This was some distance away from the inhabited villages. The Forest Department sensing the awareness of the people in Gubbigadde village, shifted its venue of tree felling to a distant place far away from the village. However, the news of tree felling reached the nearest village Salkani on the 6th September, 1983. The local youth club members sent a messenger to Gubbigadde. On the same day it was decided to launch the Chipko movement. The organizers moved into different directions contacting people-both men and women, and involving them for a mass action. Eventually all of them gathered in Salkani village, the one nearest to the Kalase forest.
On the 8th September, 1983, one hundred and sixty people including men, women and children started walking towards the Kalase forest. They left the village before dawn and as the sun rose, they reached a stream. Everyone was anxious. They had begun the journey to save forests and were ready to offer their life for the cause. There were no leaders. But the youth club activists explained to them the non-violent method of preventing felling of the trees by embracing them. As they crossed the stream on a hanging rope bridge, the gushing water of the stream gave them a noisy welcome. It was raining as they entered the forest. The leeches clung to the feet of these people to suck their blood. Though the people were very much aware of the presence of the leeches, in the height of their enthusiasm, they ignored them. They were in a hurry to reach the Kalase forest, and the spot where the axe men were camping.
As the axemen were preparing to move out of their huts, they observed the huge gathering of people coming towards them. They were very much surprised to see the women and children. Some axemen had already gone to fell the trees. Some people rushed towards the tree and before the axe men could put the first stroke on it, a group of young men and children embraced the trunk. The axe men were puzzled. They could not strike the human-bodies with their axe and so they stopped felling;
The chief of the axe men approached the people and asked “why are you embracing the trees? Why are you obstructing us from chopping this tree"? One of the activists explained why they had come and the reason for launching the Chipko movement. The headman replied immediately, "we have felled forests for many years. We know what happens if trees are cut. Drought and famine will follow and it will harm agriculture. And yes, you may have to leave your village due to scarcity of water. But you should have started this movement ten years back. Now only a small patch of forest is left". They were aware of the consequences of deforestation and welcomed the people. An axe man enquired, "Why should you bring these women and children to such forest areas? Even if only a few of you were here, it was possible to stop the tree-felling. We are employed by the Forest Department. Now we will start felling only when the Forest Officer comes and settles the matter with you. Don't fear that we will fell the trees. We assure you that we will not touch the axe till the Forest Officer comes here to discuss with you". Thus the workers too came forward with their support to save the forests. The Chipko movement reached south India in September, I983.
On the 22nd September, I983, the District Forest Officer came to Salkani with a team of scientists and influential public leaders. A village meeting was held and the Officer insisted that at the agitators should withdraw the movement. He argued that the trees were being felled according to scientific principles and that it was necessary to meet the fuel wood demand of Sirsi town. The people were determined to protect the forest and they insisted that any discussion regarding the felling of trees could take place after an inspection of the forest.
The whole team walked into the forest. The Officer had the first experience of crossing a knee-deep stream and the bite of leeches. Many village people were with the team. As they approached the site of felled trees, the scientist surveyed one hectare of forest and conducted a detailed study of felling activity. Later he submitted a report which said, "we agree that both the contentions of the Youth Club, namely excessive damage in the course of felling and excessive concentration of trees marked for felling were in fact true. The people should be complimented for having brought this to the notice of the authorities".
This support from the scientist boosted the morale of activists. They gained more strength and their determination to save the forests became more firm. The local news-papers carried special reports of the movement. Within days the movement was launched in various forest areas by the people and they renamed it as APPIKO. ‘Chipko’ is a Hindi term for hugging or embracing. 'Appiko' is a local word for Chipko in Kannada language. Thus Chipko became Appiko in south India.
Environment Activist, Alumina of Delhi School of Social Work, Delhi University. A Full Bright awardee, he travelled 3 months for delivering lecturer on environmental issues. University in USA.
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