Women in Uttarakhand’s Jakhani village in Bageshwar took a leaf out of the iconic Chipko movement of the 1970s and hugged trees in an attempt to save them from being felled. The trees are to be cut down to facilitate the construction of Kamedi Devi-Rangthara-Majgaon-Chaunala road. The womenfolk came out in hundreds to protest the felling of the trees and said that the forest has been dedicated to the Goddess ‘Kotgari Devi’, the goddess of justice in the hills of Uttarakhand.
The proposed construction of the 2km long road stretch will involve felling of close to 500 trees in the forest area. “This forest was dedicated to the Kotgari Devi of justice. Villagers do not even come here to collect fodder from these forests as they belong to the Devi maa. The proposed road will be destroying the local ecosystem and also damage environment and cause reduction in water for daily usage for the villagers,” the Sarpanch of the Jakhani village Kamala Devi was quoted as saying, media reports said.
The original road was sanctioned back in 2009 but due to protests from villagers in Jakhani and its adjacent village of Seri, the construction didn’t begin. People from another nearby village Majgaon, however approached the High Court to ask for the construction of the proposed road, which was then granted. Villagers of Seri had too staged a protest and halted work on the road but the work was able to carry on with local police’s help.
The Chipko Andolam or movement was one of India’s first major environmental activist movements that drew widespread attention from all quarters back in the 1970s. Gaura devi from Uttarakhand’s Raini village in Chamoli had become the face of the protests when she forced contractors from an Allahabad-based sports goods company that had come down to cut trees to go back without felling any tree.
The villagers have said that the cutting of trees will increase their environmental problems stressed that their area is already facing environmental problems. They have added that if at all the road is built, the forests have to be saved at any cost.
The villagers in Bageshwar had started the tradition of dedicating forests to Goddess in 1978 after the villages started seeing signs of deforestation due to excessive loss of trees.