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CC (2006.7.27): Uttaranchal: Depleting pasturelands

By Nitin Sethi for Down to Earth
The leaders and organisers of the meet realise that nothing short of a mass movement will revive the khark

Simar pasture in Dudhatoli forest division, Chamoli district of Uttaranchal, appears sparkling fresh. The memorial to Chandra Singh Garhwali – who as a soldier in the colonial army refused to fire on Pathan protesters, and was consequently tortured and incarcerated by his British employers – has got a fresh coat of paint. A red flag flutters atop a post near the memorial reminding onlookers that Dudhatoli’s iconic son was also a communist. Small eateries dot the few shaded edges of the pasture.

Dudhatoli is getting ready for a meet to deliberate the future of khark – mid-altitude pasturelands. Garhwali had devoted much energy on their conservation after returning home in 1946.

“But now,” says Dileep Singh, van panchayat head from nearby Gaur village, “the khark are under threat. If we don’t come together, our society might lose its only source of steady income.” That’s precisely why van panchayat heads from all over Uttaranchal have gathered at Simar. Hem Gairola, founding member of the Himalayan Centre for Community Forestry, a think tank in Uttaranchal, sits exhausted in a chappar – a temporary hutment fashioned from oak wood and slate roofs. It has taken three years of mobilisation for Gairola to get the meet going. But the efforts have not been in vain. 100-odd leaders have gathered for the two-day meet. Most have had to walk four to five hours to reach Simar. Understandably so, a gathering like this has not happened in the khark since Garhwali’s days. [more]