Hu­man to hero

Their strug­gle for sur­vival and progress has shaped the un­der­stand­ing of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism both at the na­tional and global lev­els and in­flu­enced pol­icy mak­ers. Wit­ness­ing their achieve­ment has be­come part of our jour­ney. On our 23rd an­niver­sary, we bring y

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS -

23 inspiring sto­ries of hope and courage and hope

1 Chipko move­ment

It shaped pro-poor en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism at na­tional and global lev­els as much as it in­flu­enced our founder edi­tor Anil Agar­wal, who was among the first few to write about the decade-long move­ment. In 1992, when Down To Earth was launched, he sent a cor­re­spon­dent to visit the vil­lages where the move­ment had grown, only to find a dif­fer­ent story ("Chipko: an un­fin­ished mission", April 16-30, 1993"). With con­ser­va­tion re­ceiv­ing greater em­pha­sis, the gulf had widened be­tween lo­cal re­al­ity and na­tional and global per­cep­tions. Many youth, who were part of Chipko, had started Ped Kato An­dolan as the For­est Con­ser­va­tion Act, 1980, was ob­struct­ing con­struc­tion of roads, bridges and elec­tric poles in the vil­lages. A deeper anal­y­sis of Chipko is needed to bet­ter un­der­stand true en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism of the poor, Agar­wal warned.

2 Kani tribe of West­ern Ghats

In 1998, much be­fore the world signed the Con­ven­tion on Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity, we wrote about the Ka­nis who as­serted rights over their tra­di­tional knowl­edge of the won­der herb, ar­o­gya­pacha ("How to sell a won­der herb", Novem­ber 1-15, 1998). They re­ceived a share of the li­cence fee and roy­alty earned from Jee­vani, a prod­uct pre­pared us­ing the herb. Jee­vani was soon her­alded as the world's first prod­uct to ex­em­plify ben­e­fit-shar­ing sys­tem. It's an­other mat­ter that the Ka­nis have not seen the benefits since 2008.

3 Ra­jen­dra Singh

Down To Earth was the first to write about the "rain catcher" in 1993 when Singh and his non- profit, Tarun Bharat Sangh, were mo­bil­is­ing vil­lages in Ra­jasthan's Al­war dis­trict to re­store tra­di­tional rain­wa­ter stor­age tanks, called jo­hads, and to change the land­scape of the desert. To­day, this re­cip­i­ent of the Ra­mon Magsaysay Award and Stock­holm Wa­ter Prize is re­garded as one of the "50 peo­ple who could save the planet".

4 Ke­sharpur of Odisha

In 1992, Down To Earth no­ticed a unique move­ment in Ke­sharpur in Odisha's Naya­garh dis­trict. Ev­ery morn­ing, two

fam­i­lies in the vil­lage would find ba­tons in their front­yards which de­cided their day's work: guard­ing vil­lage for­est from tim­ber smug­glers. Ini­ti­ated by school teacher Jogi­nath Sa­hoo, then­ga­palli move­ment has since in­spired hun­dreds of vil­lages. The move­ment is now in­cluded in the school cur­ricu­lum of Hamp­shire county, UK.

5 Ma­hen­dra Singh Tikait

He rose to be­come the sym­bol of farm­ers' power in 1998 af­ter he got 10,000 farm­ers to siege Meerut for 40 days and brought the Cen­tre to a halt. But Down To Earth has been writ­ing about his farm­ers' rights move­ments since 1993 when he was stag­ing ral­lies to op­pose WTO's Gen­eral Agree­ment on Tar­iffs and Trade. His po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence waned within a decade, but we kept high­light­ing his views on sub­si­dies and Spe­cial Eco­nomic Zones. In 2008, when he was fight­ing can­cer, Tikait gave Down To Earth an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view on In­dia's agrar­ian cri­sis and its un­der­ly­ing causes, which we pub­lished in the Oc­to­ber 1-15 is­sue.

6 Harde­vs­inh Bal­wantsinh Jadeja

In 1986-87, when Raj-Sa­mad­hiyala vil­lage in Ra­jkot dis­trict of Gu­jarat was de­clared a desert area, Harde­vs­inh Bal­wantsinh Jadeja, then sarpanch of the vil­lage, led the res­i­dents to con­struct 12 check­dams and 50 mi­crowa­ter­shed projects and plant thou­sands of trees. The re­sult was phe­nom­e­nal. In 2000, when Down To Earth vis­ited the vil­lage to gauge the im­pact of a se­vere drought pre­vail­ing in Gu­jarat, the wells of Raj-Sa­mad­hiyala were brim­ming with wa­ter. Other vil­lages in the semi-arid re­gion now fol­low its foot­steps.

7 Anna Hazare

Down To Earth has been fea­tur­ing Anna since it started track­ing drought in Ma­ha­rash­tra. Anna changed the lot of drought-stricken vil­lage Rale­gan Sid­dhi through wa­ter­shed man­age­ment. In 1991, the state planned to cre­ate 300 ideal vil­lages based on Anna's model. But the scheme could not take off due to cor­rup­tion. In 1998, Anna was sen­tenced to three months of jail for lev­el­ling cor­rup­tion charges against Ma­ha­rash­tra so­cial wel­fare min­is­ter Babanrao Gho­lap. Since then, Anna has been dreaming of a cor­rup­tion-free In­dia and we have been part of his jour­ney. 8 Mendha Lekha The na­tion came to know about this for­est vil­lage of Maria Gond in Ma­ha­rash­tra's Gad­chi­roli dis­trict in 2008 when it be­came the first vil­lage to win com­mu­nity rights over its forests un­der the Sched­uled Tribes and Other For­est Dwellers (Recog­ni­tion of For­est Rights) Act, 2006. But we have been writ­ing about it when it started its battle against for­est bu­reau­cracy in 1992. Then we had said, "It can of­fer a les­son on how to run a func­tion­ing democ­racy."

9 Horo­mo­cho vil­lage

Four decades ago, forests of this sleepy vil­lage in Hazarib­agh were de­pleted due to felling by the for­est depart­ment and peo­ple from neigh­bour­ing vil­lages. The res­i­dents de­cided to act. In 1982, they de­clared sovereignty over nat­u­ral re­sources, in­clud­ing a coal mine, 200 hectares of sal for­est, wa­ter sources and farm fields. In 2002, when Down To Earth vis­ited the vil­lage, it re­alised their tra­di­tional gram sabha

was man­ag­ing th­ese re­sources well and had set up a school and a dis­pen­sary.

10 Swad­hyay

Semire­li­gious fra­ter­ni­ties do not re­ally draw our at­ten­tion. But when we learnt that Swad­hyay, a move­ment prop­a­gated by a semi-re­li­gious fra­ter­nity, pro­motes sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture, checks ground­wa­ter de­ple­tion and takes care of com­mu­nity needs, we fea­tured it in our mag­a­zine ("The an­swers within", May 16-31, 1998).

11 Koel-Karo move­ment

By the time Down To Earth was founded in 1992, trib­als in Ranchi dis­trict had been protest­ing against Koel-Karo hy­del project for 20 years. Down To Earth vis­ited the con­flict zone to doc­u­ment the long­est fight against a dam in the coun­try. The move­ment even­tu­ally led to the cre­ation of a sep­a­rate Jharkhand state, with the new gov­ern­ment order­ing clo­sure of the project.

12 Arvind Ke­jri­wal

His strug­gle to bring about a change in gov­er­nance had be­gun way back in 2009, when he would hold mo­halla

sabha, a gen­eral body meet­ing of the res­i­dents of an area fol­low­ing the con­cept of gram sabha. Down To Earth had re­ported about this ex­per­i­ment of the Magsaysay awardee and how it brought peo­ple and au­thor­i­ties face to face, in its April 16-30, 2010, is­sue, much be­fore Ke­jri­wal be­came the chief min­is­ter of Delhi.

13 Lachen youths

In 2014, we pub­lished an ini­tia­tive by 32 youths from Sikkim's Lanchen vil­lage who or­gan­ise clean-up drives at the end of ev­ery tourist sea­son. To­day, it is the first vil­lage in In­dia to ban bot­tled wa­ter and man­age the trash left be­hind by tourists.


This vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion is a must stop for ru­ral devel­op­ment prac­ti­tion­ers to get trained. In 1992, its work was fo­cussed on women em­pow­er­ment through mahila sang­has in Tamil Nadu. Over the years, MYRADA has evolved by rop­ing in the en­tire vil­lage com­mu­nity who pre­pares strate­gies that are cre­ative, pro­duc­tive and sus­tain­able. Down To Earth has been a wit­ness to its evo­lu­tion.

15 CEC

Cen­tre for En­vi­ron­ment Con­cerns (CEC), a Hy­der­abad­based NGO, de­vel­oped a tech­nol­ogy to as­sure con­tin­u­ous mois­ture sup­ply to plants. Us­ing the Sys­tem of Wa­ter for Agri­cul­tural Re­ju­ve­na­tion (SWAR), many farm­ers in the arid Anan­ta­pur dis­trict of Andhra Pradesh are grow­ing or­chards. We pub­lished the story in Oc­to­ber 16-31, 2014 is­sue. In Fe­bru­ary this year, CEC won the Global Cham­pion First Prize for in­no­va­tion in the cat­e­gory of Cli­mate Change and Forestry at the In­ter­na­tional Agri­cul­ture Ex­po­si­tion in Paris.

16 Shramik Bharati

Much be­fore the Cen­tre in­tro­duced Nir­mal Bharat Yo­jana to pro­vide toi­let fa­cil­ity in each house­hold, Shramik Bharati started help­ing slum dwellers of Kan­pur to get drink­ing wa­ter, la­trines and med­i­cal care. We fea­tured its ini­tia­tive in the Septem­ber 16-30, 1992 is­sue. To­day, it is a well-es­tab­lished NGO that works with both ru­ral and ur­ban peo­ple.

17 Don­gria com­mu­nity

The heroic battle of this reclu­sive hill tribe of Odisha's Niyam­giri

hills hogged head­lines glob­ally in 2013 when it forced the state and the Cen­tre, along with the ju­di­ciary, to come to its doorstep and forced mine gi­ant Vedanta to aban­don its plan of min­ing their sa­cred hills. Down To Earth cap­tured this his­toric strug­gle in ev­ery de­tail, while doc­u­ment­ing the self-suf­fi­cient life­style, rich cul­ture of the com­mu­nity and their as­so­ci­a­tion with na­ture.

18 De­bal Deb

He has been guard­ing seeds of over 750 rare rice va­ri­eties for about two decades. His only help are the farm­ers who still de­pend on heir­loom seeds. In 2012, Down To Earth vis­ited De­bal Deb's hut in Odisha's Raya­gada dis­trict to doc­u­ment how he safe­guards th­ese unique germplasms from biopiracy. He has in­spired many across In­dia to con­serve rare seeds.

19 Sukhoma­jri vil­lage

In the early 1980s, this vil­lage in Haryana's Am­bala dis­trict earned world­wide ac­claim for the way peo­ple trans­formed the bar­ren land­scape. Its model of self-re­liant devel­op­ment at­tracted econ­o­mists. So much so that the Prime Min­is­ter's Of­fice started look­ing for the vil­lage.

Down To Earth, through two cover sto­ries and sev­eral ar­ti­cles, has tracked this vil­lage's jour­ney from the depths of poverty to a level of pros­per­ity.

20 Akash Ganga Trust

In 2002, ground­wa­ter lev­els were rapidly de­clin­ing in Chen­nai. This is when the Chen­nai- based cit­i­zens' ac­tion group, with the help of Cen­tre for Science and En­vi­ron­ment, es­tab­lished the coun­try's first rain cen­tre to pro­mote rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing. As more peo­ple's groups started har­vest­ing rain­wa­ter, we wrote about their in­no­va­tive ways. A decade later, when Down To Earth re­vis­ited Chen­nai, we found that the ini­tia­tives have trans­formed its wa­ter sce­nario.

21 Gare vil­lage

It's rare to come across com­mu­ni­ties that op­pose the Cen­tre's de­ci­sion to al­lo­cate coal blocks to pri­vate firms and float a com­pany to mine coal be­neath their land and gen­er­ate power. That is what the res­i­dents of this coal-rich vil­lage are do­ing. To as­sert their rights over nat­u­ral re­sources un­der their land, they have been cel­e­brat­ing Gandhi Jayanti as coal satya­graha since 2013 ("Peo­ple's power", De­cem­ber 16-31, 2014).

22 Bharat Jan Vi­gyan Jatha

In the June 1-15, 1992 is­sue, we wrote about Bharat Jan Vi­gyan Jatha (BJVJ), a peo­ple-cen­tric sci­en­tific cam­paign that pro­motes ra­tion­al­ist at­ti­tude to life at a mass level. Then, its fo­cus area was to bust the so-called mir­a­cles by ex­plain­ing the sci­en­tific tricks be­hind it. To­day, BJVJ's cam­paigns fo­cus on en­vi­ron­ment, cli­mate change and pol­lu­tion­re­lated public health.

23 Udaipur's Seed vil­lage

In 2002, we wrote about this vil­lage that was the true prod­uct of Bhoodan move­ment. It doesn't need a col­lec­tor. Its gram sabha col­lects tax and sends to the gov­ern­ment and man­ages its nat­u­ral re­sources. Though the state amended the Ra­jasthan Gram­dan Act, 1971, and re­moved sec­tion 43, which gave wide-rang­ing pow­ers to the gram sabha, the vil­lage con­tin­ues to re­main a true repub­lic.

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