All of us know about the Chipko Andolan or Chipko Movement in India, which started in April 1973 because of the deforestation in the Grahwal Himalayas which led to ecological imbalance in the region and one the devastating example of this is the Alaknanda Floods of 1970.
Thereafter, There were many such cases of landslides and land subsistence incidents which are common in areas facing increase in Civil Engineering Projects. One such incident of recent times lead to the Maletha Movement among the masses of Garhwal people.
Maletha is a village which is located in Devprayag Tehsil of Tehri Garhwal district in Uttarakhand. This beautiful village between Tehri and Srinagar which has picturesque plain fields came in news recently after the around 5,000-odd farmers decided to protest against the five-stone crushers. The people of this village are primarily relied on cattle and farming for their self sustenance.
The village peace and prosperity was intervened when in February 2014, when two stone crushers were set up on village land. They started protest against stone crushers not for “just causing unusual noise but also disturbing the local ecology“. They also complained that the dust created by these machines are affecting their fields as well as the grazing land of their cattle.
Especially in evenings, the winds made it impossible for anyone who ventured out because of the dust. And villagers were taken aback when three more crushers were landed in August 2014. Finally, on 13 August, 2014, villagers decided to launch a movement under the banner of Maletha Sanghrash Samiti (MSS) demanding removal of all stone crushers from the village. It gained momentum when on 23 August 2014 which the help of Environmentalist Dr. Anil Joshi, who protested outside the SDM office of Kirti Nagar.
The government was compelled to take demands of masses seriously and finally formed four member committee to look into the matter. They visit the site on 3rd February, but on 7th February the health of activist Sameer Katuri deteriorated and 72 women were arrested while protesting against the stone crusher units. Therefore, the CM decided to suspend three stone crushers immediately to control the situation and assured to remove rest of them as soon as possible. As a result, on the 14th day, the villagers withdrew the hunger strike on 12th February 2015.
History has repeated itself this time also. The Chipko movement of 1970s is still a topic of debate among academicians, feminists, environmentalists, ecologists and activists and many others for the participation of women in large number and leading such movement. But Maletha Movement set another example for the bravery of women in Uttarakhand.
In Maletha Movement, since 21 December 2014, the agitation of masses intensified. On 20th January, 2015 Smt. Sita Devi went on a hunger strike unto death. On the 11th day of the fast, the government officials tried to forcefully evacuate and administered fluids to a Srinagar Hospital. As the news spread quickly Sameer Raturi an activist and convener of Himalaya Bachao Andolan (HBA) started indefinite hunger strike generating wider support base and sympathy from masses. Also, the small cosmetics and tailoring shop of 38-year old, Nanda Devi became the epicenter for the movement.
According to 43-year old Vimla Devi Negi, “After this struggle we have realized our power. We raised our voices against what was wrong. We raised it till we were heard”.
Environmentalist Anil Joshi who participated in the protest mentions about the incident, “Now more than 10 km of the area is affected by the pollution caused by stone crushers. The villagers suffer noise pollution and it’s affecting the overall environment”.
The worse affected areas are Maletha, Badola, Pali, Bauda and Chopiya. In the referendum by agitators to the Chief Minister Harish Rawat claimed that the illegal mining is ruining mountains and Alakhnanda river in the region.
Save Himalaya Movement member Sameer Katuri wrote a letter in June 2015 addressing to Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi to seek some empathy towards the villagers and farmers of Maletha as the Congress leader is championing the cause of suffering farmers across the country. The movement is considered as one of the biggest movement since the Chipko Movement of the 1970s. But strangely enough, this movement did not wider attention outside Uttarakhand. This recent movement has raised many issues faced by people of Uttarakhand such as land pollution, sound pollution, ecological imbalance and migration of locals outside the hometown or state.
The State Govt. finally stepped down and removed all the stone crushers from the area in Aug 2015. It has only been possible because of the continuous movement that the locals led for several weeks. The women of Maletha village have once again proved the eminent role of women in the preservation and conservation of environment in Uttarakhand.
The important question is that what the price of development a person should pay. Should we compromise our ecological balance for development?