Sirsi (Karnataka), Nov.17 : The 25 years of Appiko or, hug the tree Green Movement on the Sahyadri Mountain ranges in the western ghats of Karnataka has created a tremendous impact here.
This movement started in Gubbi Gadde, a small village near Sirsi in the (north) Uttara Kannada district, has forced the forest department to change the forest policy on felling of trees.
Besides affecting the forest policy, it also spread to other parts and saved forests.
On Sep.8, 1983, Pandurang Hegde, the fiery activist, started the Appiko (to hug) movement. He derived inspiration from Sunderlal Bahugana's Chipko movement in Uttar Pradesh, in which villagers used to hug trees to save them from being felled by the State, which then had no laws against felling of timber inside protected areas.
Appiko movement was started against monoculture (the agricultural practice of producing or growing one single crop over a wide area) in the western ghats. Today, it has become a part of the lives of people. Their non-violent protest movement has compelled the forest department to amend the policy against felling of forests in eco-sensitive region. There has been a silent revolution in the Western Ghats.
anduranga Hegde, the founder of Appiko Movement says that this movement has become a part of the culture in the western ghats and has saved the very sensitive eco sphere.
"This movement, started to protest against felling of trees, monoculture, forest policy and deforestation, has succeeded in changing the forest policy. This first ever people's green movement in south India to save our natural resources has become a model of sustainable development," said Panduranga Hedge, the founder of Appiko movement.
"The activists used local folklore to reach out to the masses. Another activist and farmer Mahabaleshwara Hegde of Gubbi gadde village finds this movement a part of the lives of people in this area. The Gandhi of environmental movement, Sunderlal Bahuguna, not only inspired the movement but visits here regularly to guide the people," Hedge added.
Mahabaleshwara Hegde, said: "The river Kali meanders through the valley linking the past and the present. The song of Apppiko reverberates in the hills. The 25-year-old movement, reminds the people of the need to conserve sensitive eco sphere. In 1983, the villagers in Sirsi taluka of North Kanara district launched an 'embrace the trees' campaign."
In 1950, forests covered more than 81 percent of the geographical area in Uttara Kannada (or North Kanara) district. 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 was believed to have shrunk to 25 per cent.
Locals, especially the poor, were displaced by dams. Environmentalists blamed monoculture for drying up water sources, affecting forest-dwellers.
Started in Sirsi, the Appiko movement spread across the western Ghats, including in places outside Karnataka. By linking up, campaigners managed to build awareness to conserve 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.
The western Ghat biodiversity include 120,000 living species, 4,500 flowering plants, 500 species of birds, 120 species of mammals, 160 species of reptiles, 70 species of frogs, 800 species of fish and 1493 species of medicinal plants.