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Internal squabbles and external resistance have weakened many environmental movements, yet the
southern version of the Chipko movement has seemingly waded its way through such predictable
uncertainties. It has lived up to the promise it made on September 8, 1983, a quarter century ago,
when people from villages around Salkani in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka undertook an 8-km
trek to lay siege to a tree-felling site in the Kalase forests.

Appiko (which means ͞stick͟ in local kannada) was born that day and grew quickly over the next
three months as the perpetrators of the attempted felling were given a swift and unceremonious
send-off. Chanting ulisu, belasu and balasu, meaning ͚save,͛ ͚grow͛ and ͚sustain,͛ the movement
spread to other districts in no time as forest-dwellers challenged the tyranny of the state that was
bent upon clearing the native tropical forests to pave the way for monoculture plantations. It is seen
as an echo of the Chipko movement in the Himalayas.

In 1950, Uttara Kannada district forest covered more than 81 percent of its geographical area. The
government, declaring this forest district a "backward" area, then initiated the process of
"development". There major industries - a pulp and paper mill, a plywood factory and a chain of
hydroelectric dams constructed to harness the rivers - sprouted in the area. These industries have
overexploited the forest resource, and the dams have submerged huge-forest and agricultural areas.
The forest had shrunk to nearly 25 percent of the district's area by 1980. The local population,
especially the poorest groups, were displaced by the dams. The conversion of the natural mixed
forests into teak and eucalyptus plantations dried up the water sources, directly affecting forest
dwellers. In a nutshell, the three major p's - paper, plywood and power - which were intended for
the development of the people, have resulted in a fourth p: poverty.

It took six years before the movement succeeded in getting an executive order issued spelling a
moratorium on green felling across the Western Ghats. Since then Appiko has been in the vanguard
of ecological conservation: from opposing a seventh dam on the Kali river in Karnataka to saving the
Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu, and from taking on ͚Nylon 66͛ in Goa to supporting the Chalakudy river
campaign in Kerala.

It may have had a low ͚TRP rating͛ among contemporary movements of its genre, but Appiko has
made a strong sense of its place in history. Working within its limits, but also pushing the limits, it
has shown an enormous level of maturity in being politically correct in contesting the development
priorities of the state. Its reasonable success rate and continued relevance makes you curious to
understand why it clicks.

First, Appiko͛s greatest strengths lie in it being neither driven by a personality nor having been
formally institutionalised. However, it does have a facilitator in Pandurang Hegde, 52. He helped
launch the movement in 1983 and continues to inspire it. In fact, the movement has facilitated the
creation of a sociological space where one could find oneself and even relate to it. It was this
collective search that led over 25,000 people to protest against the 4,000 MW Barge Mounted
Power Plant at Tadadi on the west coast, some three years ago.
Second, Appiko does not have any agenda of its own and is not opposed to any economic agenda. It
relies on the spontaneity of public action and reaction to determine its course. This is the way it has
been these last 27 years. Thus Appiko has turned into a potent household expression to counter
violence against nature. It may seem loose-knit but it has necessarily been an act of culture that
affirms the inviolable need to define or be defined.

Yet, the act of culture has not been impermeable altogether. Devoid of any deep-rooted ideology, it
lacks firmness in making a distinction between the past and the present, and between the internal
and the external. It is this ambiguity that is reflected in Appiko͛s critical stand against the proposed
Hubli-Ankola railway link that will destroy 2,000 hectares of dense tropical forests, being contested
from within its larger constituency.

Does not such opposition from within weaken the movement? Conversely, it reaffirms the fact that
the average Indian is fundamentally submissive to external pressures at the cost of one͛s autonomy
and self-respect. This submissiveness has been further amplified by the fact that over these years
the driving force of Appiko enshrined in words like ͞ecology͟ and ͞conservation͟ has been replaced
with words such as ͞economy͟ and ͞consumption."

In the process, the contours of the environment versus development discourse have shifted in
favour of individual gains emanating from the economic conversion of natural resources, as opposed
to collective survival upon them. No wonder, then, that land, water or forests have increasingly been
seen through the economic lens. Appiko is seized of the fact that obsession for individual gains
through economic growth, as reflected in the case of the proposed rail link, seeks to brew
widespread apathy towards ecological conservation.

Far from being repulsive, Appiko has been responsive to such changes. That leads us to the third
reason for Appiko͛s relevance, which lies in its capacity to survive on residual empathy amongst its
constituency as it seeks alignment with new actors. Appiko has been a mass satyagraha, however,
leaving individuals to define what satya, or truth, may mean to each. It is through the non-heroic
ordinariness of individuals that this satyagraha has survived. Unlike other movements, Appiko relies
on the ordinary individuals because it believes that despite being submissive they are unlikely to be
psychologically swamped.

Appiko movement apart from stopping deforestation promoted afforestation on denuded


lands. Individual families as well as village youth clubs have taken an active interest in growing
decentralized nurseries. An all-time record of 1.2 million saplings was grown by people in the Sirsi
area in 1984-1985.| £he villagers initiated a process of regeneration in barren common land.| £he
Youth Club has taken the responsibility for the project and the whole village has united to protect this
land from grazing, lopping and fire. £he experience shows that in those areas where soil is present,
natural regeneration is the most efficient and least expensive method of bringing barren area under
free cover. In the areas in which topsoil is washed off, tree planting - especially of indigenous, fast-
growing species - is done.

Also Appiko Movement is related to rational use of the ecosphere through introducing alternative
energy sources to reduce the pressure on the forest. £he activists have constructed 2,000fuel-
efficient chulhas ¢ hearths ) in the area, which save fuelwood consumption by almost 40 percent. £he
activists do not wait for government subsidies or assistance, since there is spontaneous demand from
the people. Even in Sizsi town and in other urban areas, these chulhas are installed in hotels,
reducing firewood consumption.
£he other way to reduce pressure on the forest is through building gobar ¢gas plants). An increasing
number of people are building bio-gas plants. However, the Appiko activists are more interested in
those people who are from poorer sections - who cannot afford gas plants - so they emphasize
chulhas.

£he thrust of the Appiko Movement in carrying out its work reveals the constructive phase of the
people's movement. £hrough this constructive phase, depleted natural resources can be rebuilt. £his
process promotes sharing of resources in an egalitarian way, helping the forest dwellers. £he
movement's aim is to establish a harmonious relationship between people and nature, to redefine the
term development so that ecological movements today form a basis for a sustainable, permanent
economy in the future.