Since the 1980s, one man’s quiet effort has pioneered a village movement to restore the forests of Uttarakhand’s denuded hills. Sanjay Dubey profiles Sachchidanand Bharti.
Tehelka, January 27, 2007
There is little to set Sachchidanand Bharti apart from others in the village of Ufrain Khal, and it is only when he greets us with a rose and a warm hug that we realise that this unassuming man is the person we have come to meet. As we look out over the valley beyond, the hills around us reflect his extraordinary achievement — with no financial assistance apart from the contributions of villagers, Bharti has transformed large parts of the once-denuded Dudhatoli range in Uttarakhand’s Pauri district into the best and thickest forests in the state.
Ever since the 1960s, unrestricted industrialisation has made large tracts of the mountains mere warehouses for natural resources, exported to the plains. In the 1970s, grassroots protest against the destruction of the forests famously found its most visible expression in the Chipko struggle, which began in Gopeshwar in Chamoli district. Bharti was then in college in Gopeshwar and was an active participant in the movement, even forming a college group called Daliyon Ka Dagda (Friends of the Trees) to spread the word on conservation. After his studies, when he returned to Ufrain Khal, he found the same sorry tale of destruction there as well. “Around that time, the forest department decided to cut down a stretch of silver firs near Dera village. Coming from the Chipko movement, I knew how to tackle this and I started a campaign and mobilised the villagers,” says Bharti. Thanks to his efforts, hundreds of firs were saved from the official axe — a small success which laid the foundation for big changes and, most importantly, helped give the people of the area a sense of their rights and the importance of unity. [more]