Another movement, another purpose

IN JANUARY 1978, about 300 villagers from Almora district got together under the aegis of the Parvatiya Van Bachao Andolan and camped for 39 days in the Chanchridhar forests near Dwarahat. Bipin Tripathi, the block pramukh (chief) of Dwarahat, explained why: "We did not want Kashmiri Lal, the contractor of Saharanpur's Star Paper Mill, to fell the trees."

From the 1950s, Star had devastated many forests in the region and this had prompted many campaigns in the local press, including Dronanchal Prahari, a Hindi weekly, which Tripathi edited from 1971 to 1975. He was jailed during the Emergency and the paper shut down. Star had also complained to the Press Council about Tripathi's columns against the mill.

"We decided to save Chanchridhar," Tripathi recalled, "because it was the watershed of several streams supplying water to about 18 villages. However, one movement was not Chipko and I will not say we were non-violent in the true sense of the term."

According to Tripathi, Chipko's fight in Garhwal was against outside contractors. In Kumaon, he explained, "we opposed all contractors and any felling of trees. In 1974, I had suggested many times to Sunderlal Bahuguna, Chandi Prasad Bhatt and the forest department that plantation of broad-leaved trees, watershed development and setting up agro-based industries would generate employment. But at that time these proposals were not in vogue."

The Chanchridhar protest was a people's movement and Trilok Singh Rautela of Bijepur village proudly displays a saw he snatched from one of the contractor's men. "They ran away in fright," he recalled. "We never had to cling to a tree".