25 years on, Appiko forest movement sees success, challenges

September 10th, 2008 - 9:49 am ICT by IANS  

Ponda (Goa), Sep 10 (IANS) Twenty-five years after the Appiko eco-awareness movement swept parts of south India, its leaders say they have seen a “lot of change” specially in the forest policy of Karnataka.”Felling has been banned in the natural forests of the Western Ghats (the sensitive coastal hill range) in Karnataka, which is a very good sign,” Appiko leader Pandurang Hegde told IANS while passing through Goa, close to his base in Sirsi, northern Karnataka.

“But, on the other hand, so-called development projects are turning into main threats to natural forests,” he argued.

“In one way we have won the battle to save the forest. In another way, the mainstream mindset is proving to be a real challenge,” he added.

The term Chipko comes from the Hindi word “to stick”, and Appiko comes from the local Kannada vernacular word meaning the same. “It is inspired by the famous Chipko movement of the Himalayas (to save the trees from being felled by sticking to them),” Hegde told IANS.

In September 1983, men, women and children of Salkani “hugged the trees” in the Kalase forest. The campaign is seen by some as helping build a new eco-awareness all over southern India.

Hegde said what was a pressing issue was not just to get the continued involvement of the local people but also to “influence policymakers”.

“Appiko has spread not only in Karnataka but also to Wayanad (the northern hill district) of Kerala. It has in a way inspired the Eastern Ghats (on the other coast of peninsular India) on campaigns to save the region. In Ooty we have the Save Nilgiris Campaign, which is very similar to Appiko.”

He saw a spread of the movement to many areas of the region.

In 1983 the villagers in Sirsi taluka of North Kanara district launched an ‘embrace the trees’ campaign. This came as natural forests were being spread to make way for monoculture plantations.

Once it started in Sirsi, it spread across the western Ghats, including in places outside Karnataka. By linking up, campaigners managed to build awareness about the commonness of the sensitive environment in this region.

Appiko is seen by some as a kind of echo of the more prominent Chipko movement of north India.

In 1950 forests in Uttara Kannada (or North Kanara) district covered more than 81 percent of its geographical area. But being declared a ‘backward’ district, the area was selected for major industries - a pulp and paper mill, a plywood factory and a chain of hydroelectric dams constructed to harness the rivers.

By 1980 forest in the district is believed to have shrunk to 25 percent. Locals, specially the poor, were displaced by dams. Monoculture was blamed by environmentalists for drying up water sources, affecting forest dwellers. Locals blamed the three Ps -paper, plywood and power - for causing a fourth P, poverty, rather than tackling it.

That was the backdrop in which Appiko was launched.

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