The Chipko movement was able to put a lot of pressure on the government, says Chandi Prasad Bhatt

By Umesh Raghuvanshi, Lucknow

Gandhian environmentalist Chandi Prasad Bhatt is known for the stellar work he has done for green causes.

As founder of the Dasholi Gram Swaraj Mandal, considered the mother organisation for launch of the Chipko movement in the hills, he won the Gandhi Peace Prize for his work in 2013

Do you feel your efforts are showing results?

The Chipko movement was able to put a lot of pressure on the government. It had an impact on making people aware of the need for conservation of forests. Trees were considered an item for consumption (till then). A number of laws have been enacted to check tree-felling and (ensure) conservation of forests. The Forest Conservation Act, 1980, is one such law. But laws do not make any impact (by themselves). There should be awakening of the people and the green cover should be all around.

What is your advice to the younger generation?

A threat is looming large and the scenario on the environment front is worsening. There have been reports of water crisis in different parts of the world. We also witnessed this situation in Tamil Nadu. Growing pollution in rivers is also a cause for serious concern. Rivers not only symbolise faith, they also lead to economic prosperity. Rivers like the Ganga should not be allowed to turn into a drain that overflows in the rainy season.

What should be done?

We need to make people aware of what is happening to the environment. The work of scientists should reach the people and the administration. Any work done in a laboratory will not benefit the people, unless the administration and the people are made aware of this.

What about global warming?

The situation is turning alarming on the global warming front. There is also a threat of local warming or the local factors that have an adverse impact on the environment. Take the case of Badrinath and Kedarnath. The number of tourists and pilgrims visiting there is rising. Glaciers are melting at a faster pace. We cannot check pilgrims as it is an issue of faith for them. Yet, the polluting vehicles can be banned. Only CNG vehicles can operate in Delhi. Polluting vehicles should not be allowed to operate in this (hill) region. If effective steps are not taken immediately to check such pollution, there will always be the possibility of a natural disaster like the one that took place in the Uttarakhand region in 2013. (Uttarakhand, especially the hill districts of Rudraprayag, Uttarakashi, Chamoli and Pittoragrh, was swept by flash floods in June 2013 that left a trail of devastation.According a report released in 2013 by the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM),169 people died and 4,021 had gone missing, who were later presumed to be dead).

Is the international community serious?

As of now developed countries like the USA do not appear to be paying the desired attention to the issue. A natural disaster does not differentiate between a developing and a developed country. So both developing and developed countries, and the rich and poor countries, should make honest efforts.

Where and how did you begin your work?

I began my work in Gopeshwar in Chamoli district of the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. I did one-year teaching and then worked as a booking clerk with the Garhwal Motor Owners’ Union. I was inspired by the visit of the late Jayaprakash Narayan to Badrinath. I heard him and it drew my attention to the Sarvodaya movement. In 1960, when China stepped up activities on the border, a need for economic development of the border region was felt. We left our jobs and formed labour cooperatives by associating educated youths.

This work went well for four to five years. We took up road construction work and the Dasholi Gram Swaraj Mandal was formed to provide job avenues for the youth. Soon, the Bhoodan-gramdan movement was launched in the Uttarakhand region. I was made convenor for the Uttarakhand Sarvodya Mandal. A movement to demand prohibition was launched in 1965-66. All the liquor shops were closed in Chamoli by picketing in 1968. Liquor shops remained closed in the hill region for years from April 1972. Later, licences were issued for liquor shops. We faced many problems while pushing for the public cause through the Dasholi Gram Swaraj Mandal. In 1970, there was a flood in Alaknanda river. This flood had an adverse impact on the Ganga canal that was choked for nearly 10 kilometres downstream Hardwar. We came to New Delhi to meet the authorities. It was pointed out that there were man-made reasons for the flood. A committee was formed.

The Uttar Pradesh government had sent a letter banning use of certain category of wood for making agricultural instruments. The beginning of Chipko (Movement) to stop tree-felling was thereafter made at Phata Rampur on April 24, 1973. (Chipko Movement was a non- violent movement aimed at protection and conservation of trees and forests. The villagers used to hug the trees and protect them from wood cutters. Hence, the term ‘chipko’ or embrace).

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