A Chipko save-tree movement campaigner, Vijay Jardhari, and his friends risked their lives to save a burning forest lush with oak and apricot trees and blooming rhododendrons when frantic calls to the forest department went unheeded.
He and residents of Uttarakhand’s Jardhar village finally controlled the wildfire on Monday, after four days of hard work as flames engulfed nearly 6 square km of the reserved forest owned by the government.
“A forest team came but without any equipment to extinguish fire. We were left with little option but to douse the fire on our own,” Jardhari said over the phone from the village.
The hill state is notorious for pre-monsoon forest fires — sometimes ignited by locals to prepare the slopes for cultivation. The cause is most often man-made but natural phenomena too light up the dry leaves in the parched weather.
The Jardhar villagers’ heroics could be the first instance of taming a forest fire without any ‘sarkari’ or government help. Using traditional knowledge, they made a fire line from the bushes and it worked.
About 200 villagers, including women, jumped into the rescue of a forest they had conserved for the past 35 years.
The forest department made the usual excuses — limited resources and trained staff.
“No forest fire can be controlled without the support of villagers. We have more than 5,000 people on the field to extinguish fires. At such times of crisis, we need help from the villagers,” said Rajinder Kumar Mahajan, the head of the forest force.
The rising temperature and dry weather has made the state vulnerable to forest fires. Official data say 948 hectares of forests have been affected so far. The popular Corbett National Park alone has recorded 28 incidents of fires that have gutted 125 hectares of forests.
Jardhar village in Tehri district is an exemplary example of how people’s participation turned a dry forest into a dense green one. It was an effort that has its roots in the Chipko movement of the 70s, which spread the message of forest conservation.
Around that the time, Jardhar had almost lost its forest cover, forcing concerned villages to form a team to restore it. The group not only looked after the trees but also guarded them. After three decades, nature has repaid the villages with a green canopy that rivals the best forests in the country.
“Community participation is the key to success for any movement. Jardhar village showed the ray of hope. It’s our forest and we will do whatever required for saving the forest,” Jardhari said.
(With inputs from Nihi Sharma)