“It took 38 years for us to be the global host of the World Environment Day celebrations and India is proud to play a more proactive role and not a defensive one today,” said Jairam Ramesh, the Indian Minister of Environment on World Environment Day 2011.
“We have a whole new generation of Indians who show us concrete solutions to the crisis faced by our planet. And since I have found, it is women who head leadership in environment issues at a local level, I thought the best way to acknowledge their efforts was by calling 100 of these ‘green warriors’ and award some of them for their efforts.”
B. M. S. Rathore, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Environment and Forests said, “We are looking at nature and livelihood through a woman’s perspective. Women are the ones who have to get out early to collect leaves and firewood. They are the ones who not only do the collection, but, also have to cook the food and nuture the family. We must learn from these 100 women how to nurture nature which is the backbone of our entire planet. We have formulated a Green India mission and in 5-10 years we hope to rejuvenate all our forest cover again.”
Ramesh spoke about Mendha Lekha, a participatory forest management scheme initiated by the government that helps free the villagers from the clutches of poverty.
“Today everyone wants to be part of anything to do with nature across the globe because it is the ‘in’ thing,” said Ramesh. “But, India has always been looking seriously at the links between the environment and progress. On World Environment Day 2011, India has taken a small step and given the women a platform on which to work as a team to help strengthen forest management.”
Another guest on the dais called Sunita Uikey from Madhya Pradesh of Central India said, “We are the ones who monitor the jungles and keep forest fires in check. We also grow saplings of indigenous trees like Mahua, Amla, Jamun, Tamarind, Peepul etc. During the season my whole family gets together for two months to pick the tendu leaves. We earn around 5,000 Rupee [about US$ 111 thousands] for the whole month as we have to sell it through a middle man. Now we look for co-operatives as those give us better money. We also harvest honey which we sell and we eat the fruits of the forest and also the saag [green leaves.]”
Deva Jyothi Program
Maya Verma, one of the award winners, was called to the podium to make a speech, after which she sang a beautiful song. The song was about the co-relation between nature and women, and how their livelihood is entwined with the trees and the forest.
She spoke strongly about educating children and teaching them to grow trees which are of local species. She also spoke about encouragement of the growth of medicinal herbs, organic vermiculture, composting and the use of indigenous seeds.
“The reason I insist on our own seeds is they require less water to grow and the soil is home to them as they are not foreign to the region,” said Verma.
Most of the women talked about replanting when the forests burn. They have also reforested areas which were degraded.
“Oak, Rhododhendron and Maple are some of the broad leaved trees they like to grow because the leaves mulch with the soil easily and fertilize the forest floor. The government encourages the growth of pine for the timber and resin, and because it is a local species,” said Radha Ben Bhatt, one of the speakers on the dais.
Lakshmi Kaushani from Uttarkhand said, “Women and nature have a bond and we look to nature to keep us alive. We like the trees with big leaves as they give humus to the soil. All of us here come from small holdings. We do not have to be told to support nature.”
The minister ended the session by announcing the distribution of 100 thousand gas cylinders to the women so they don’t have to destroy forest cover. Called the Deva Jyothi program, the announcement was met with a huge round of applause from the women gathered in the hall.
“The benefits of this effort will be seen in 2-3 years when the forests will be allowed to grow due to less extraction of fuel wood,” said the minister. He also spoke about a move on the ancient Indian Forest Act of the 1920’s laid down in the time of the British which needs to be updated and changed to suit today’s India.
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