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Cartoon & reflection



Ecology is Permanent Economy

The 1987 Right Livelihood Prizes, all together worth US$ 100,000, went to the Chipko Movement of India, to Professor Hans-Peter Durr, a West German physicist, to Frances Moore-Lappe of the USA, and to Mordechai Vanunu, an Israeli. The 1987 Right Livelihood Prizes were awarded in recognition of work for disarmament, security and peace. In this article we present a profile of the Indian prizewinner, the Chipko Movement.

India's forests are one of the principal bases of subsistence of the rural population as a whole, and especially so in the mountainous regions. They are a direct source of food, fuel and cattle fodder, while at the same time preventing soil erosion and ensuring water supplies. As ever-increasing areas of forested land came to be felled for commercial and industrial interests, Indian villagers began to try safeguarding this basic necessity of life by Gandhi's method of satyagraha- nonviolent resistance. In the 1970s and 1980s, this resistance to the destruction of the forests spread throughout India. It became organized, and well known, as the "Chipko Movement".

The first "Chipko" action began spontaneously in April 1973. In the following five years it spread to many Himalayan districts in the province of Uttar Pradesh. The name of the movement is derived from an Indian word meaning "embrace": the villagers embrace the trees and try to save them by putting their bodies between the trees and the tree-feller's axes. The "Chipko" protesters in Uttar Pradesh won a major victory in 1980, when the then Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, imposed a 15-year ban on tree-felling in the Himalayan forests of that province. Since then the movement has spread as far as the provinces of Himachal Pradesh to the north, Karnataka to the south, Rajasthan to the west, Bihar to the east and to the Vindhyas in central India. Apart from the 1 5-year ban in Uttar Pradesh, the movement has also succeeded in stopping deforestation in the western Ghats and the Vindhyas, and it has created public pressure leading to a policy compatible with the needs of the population and ecological interests as regards natural resources.

The "Chipko Movement" is decentralized; its grass roots are hundreds of autonomous local initiatives. The majority of its leaders and activists are village women who take action in order to rescue their and their communities' means of subsistence. However, men have also been involved, and some of them have become leaders of the movement as a whole. They include:

Sunderlal Bahaguna, an activist and philosopher in the spirit of Gandhi; it was his appeal to Mrs. Gandhi which led to the ban on deforestation, and his 5,000 kilometre-long trans-Himalayan march in 1981 1983 which was a major stimulus to the "Chipko" idea. Bahaguna coined the "Chipko" motto: "Ecology is permanent economy."

Chandi Prasad Bhatt, one of the first "Chipko" activists, who suggested setting up local industries based on conservation and long term utilization of forests for local purposes.

Doom Singh Negi, who, together with Bachni Devi and many village women saved trees in the first campaign, by the "Chipko embrace". This was when the slogan "What do the forests need? Soil, water and clean air!" was coined.

Ghanashyam Raturi, the "Chipko" poet, whose songs can be heard echoing in the Himalayan region of Uttar Pradesh.

A brief description in a UN Environment Programme feature said of the "Chipko" movement that in effect its members were causing a socio-economic revolution, by regaining control over forest resources from the hands of a far-off bureaucracy which was only interested in selling the forests for the production of goods appropriate for the urban market.