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Path finders

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Read about the people who have shown us the path that is to be followed, to make the world a better place to live in. Follow their example to make the world a cleaner, greener and better place to live in.

Chewang Norphel
Mahesh Chandra Mehta
Dr M S Swaminathan
Chandi Prasad Bhatt
Anna Hazare
Sunderlal Bahaguna
Prof. Veer Bhadra Mishra
Arvind Mehta
Kallyan Pukkadan
Medha Patkar
Murlidhar Devidas Amte



Chewang NorpelCHEWANG NORPHEL builds glaciers in Leh. Chewang Norphel, a retired civil engineer and his colleagues at the Leh Nutrition Project have, to date, built 10 artificial glaciers. Mr Norphel was recently nominated for the Asian Innovation Award instituted by the Far Eastern Economic Review and Du Pont. After obtaining a diploma in Civil Engineering, he joined the state government service. His first challenge came in 1966, when he was posted to Zanskar, in Ladakh, as a subdivisional officer. He realized that the need of the hour was a bridge connecting it to the mainland. With the help of the villagers and using a technology that was purely rural – no cement, only local stones, rocks and wood – he constructed a bridge. He was later associated with the building of a number of canals where he did away with the cement lining because it was very expensive and often cracked in winter. Instead, he allowed weeds to grow and thicken with each passing year.

In 1995, Mr .Norphel joined the Leh Nutrition Project as a project officer of the Watershed Development Programme, which was responsible for the construction of new canals and reservoirs. He realized that the need of the hour was to provide farmers with water during the summer months when they most required it. The idea of constructing a glacier came to him when he saw that in the winter months the water in the streams was going waste. He identified an ideal spot along the course of a mountain stream, close to a farm, where water could be diverted to create an artificial glacier. He had a channel dug with retaining walls and provided it with a small sluice gate to control the flow of the water. Water in this channel would ultimately freeze to form a glacier, which, in the summer months would provide water to all the villages lying in the area. Earlier, sowing of such principal crops as barley and wheat used to be delayed, but now villages lying close to the glaciers can raise a good crop. As more and more glaciers are being constructed all over Ladakh, most of the barren land will come under cultivation. The glacier project is being funded by the government’s Desert Development Agency and there are a number of NGOs working with Leh Nutrition Project in the programme.



Mahesh Chandra MehtaMAHESH CHANDRA MEHTA, a lawyer by profession, is known for his efforts to protect the country’s environment and make people aware of their rights to breathe pure air and drink clean water. In 1984 he began a battle to protect the Taj Mahal, which was losing some of its sheen due to industrial pollution. After 10 years, he succeeded in moving the coal-based industries to a safe distance.

In 1985, he moved the Supreme Court to relocate 1200 polluting industries from Delhi thus opening an environmental Pandora’s box. Contrary to the provisions of the master plan for Delhi, formulated in 1962, industrial units were operating in residential areas and areas where industries are not permitted to be set up. Acting on Mehta’s petition, the Supreme Court in 1996 ordered the relocation or closure of many industries.

He was honoured with the prestigious Magsaysay Award in 1997.

Some of the other issues he is fighting for include

sqb.gif (46 bytes)Pollution of Ganga
sqb.gif (46 bytes)Pollution due to vehicles
sqb.gif (46 bytes)Sewage treatment in Delhi by Delhi Municipal Corporation.



Dr. M S SwaminathanDR M S SWAMINATHAN is India’s most renowned agricultural scientist, who is closely associated with the Green Revolution in India. In recognition of his work, he has been awarded with the UNESCO Gandhi gold medal in 1999, the Magsaysay award, and the World Food Prize in 1987. He has been included by Time magazine as one of the persons who has influenced the 20th century. He is the recipient of many national and international awards, including the Padma Vibhushan and the Albert Einstein World Science Award. Dr Swaminathan was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1999, he became the second Indian to receive the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development.

When he first joined the Indian Agriculture Research Institute, food production in India was not sufficient to meet its requirements and this was a major challenge for him. After through research to solve the problem of low yield in wheat, he zeroed on a newly developed Mexican dwarf variety, which was found to be suitable for cultivation in India. Wheat production increased dramatically thereafter and doubled within 10 years. He developed high-yielding strains of wheat and rice and accomplished crosses in potato and jute species. He formulated various schemes and projects to provide the benefit of research to the farmer in the field. He also introduced modern methods and techniques to raise agricultural production.

Dr Swaminathan worked as the Director General of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. In 1989, he founded the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, where many of his ideas on poverty eradication are experimented upon through field projects. He has not only contributed in the field of agriculture but also in the fields of environmental conservation and poverty eradication.



Chandi Prasad BhattCHANDI PRASAD BHATT is one of the luminaries of the Chipko movement, during which women hugged trees to save them from the fatal saws of contractors. Bhatt worked closely with the village women and encouraged them to assert their environmental rights. He helped and guided them to assess and understand the environmental impact of their activities. He organized them to afforest the degraded Alakananda Valley. ‘How many trees are you going to leave behind for your daughter-in-law,’ was his favourite chant to elderly women trudging along the mountain slopes.

Mr Bhatt spent his childhood in Gopeshwar, a tiny village in the hills of Uttar Pradesh. His concern for the sad plight of the mountain people came to the fore while he was working as a ticket clerk for a bus company in Rishikesh. He often walked across the mountains to talk to the villagers about their problems. In 1956, a speech by Gandhian leader Jayaprakash Narayan, who was touring the area, prompted him to more direct action. Along with other young people of the area, he launched a series of campaigns, organizing villagers for economic development programmes and fighting liquor abuse throughout the Uttarakhand.

In 1960, he quit his job with the Garhwal Motor Owners Union and joined the Bhoodan movement (an experiment in land reforms). Since then, he has been actively taken part in various movements in the hills. Along with a group of people, he toured the mountains extensively on foot to create awareness among the people about the ill effects of deforestation, which had ravaged the ecology of the Alakananda Valley and led to devastating floods. He guided the people to replant and carry out afforestation on a large scale.

Over the years, he has organized eco-development camps at different places in the region to involve local people in tree planting. Mr Bhatt founded the Dasoli Gram Swaraj Mandal, which has taken up community forestry in several ecologically devastated areas of the Alakananda River. He has written several books and articles highlighting the environmental problems of the central Himalayas.

His role in protecting the environment in the hills gave him the Magsaysay award.


Anna HazareANNA HAZARE or Kisan Baburao Hazare, is a well-known social worker who transformed the Ralegan Siddhi Village, in Ahmednagar District, Maharashtra, into a model self-sufficient village.

While in the Indian Army, he read many books by Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, and Acharya Vinoba Bhave. Swami Vivekananda's thoughts inspired him to devote his life working for the society. To fulfil his dream of developing his village into a model one he decided to seek voluntary retirement from the Army, and, in August 1975, he returned to Ralegan Siddhi.

The village was then afflicted by drought and in the grip of poverty. Without seeking anyone’s help, Anna Hazare began spending his entire savings in developmental work in the village. Motivated by his selflessness, the villagers began to take part in the work through shramdan or voluntary labour. He encouraged people to tackle their problems through the use of sustainable means. Several canals and bunds were built to hold back the rainwater. The successful harvesting of water raised the water table and extended the irrigation facilities, which increased agricultural yield. In fact, 20 years earlier only one crop could be harvested yearly; now, three crops are being harvested. He encouraged tree planting and terracing of hill slopes to help retain rainwater. Solar panels were fitted all over the village to provide electricity; biogas plants were set up which meet the households’ fuel needs; and a wind pump was also set up.

Now the village has water all around the year: it has a grain bank, a milk bank, and a school. People are all well off and there is no poverty. Anna's moral code of conduct is also quite strict. The fruit bearing trees are not protected by any watchman, yet not a single fruit is stolen and ripe fruits are distributed to balwadi children and the school children.

People of the village are proud of Ralegan's achievements and they have a share and a stake in its glory. Therefore they would not do anything that will hurt Anna or bring disrepute to the village.

Anna Hazare’s achievements have brought him awards galore. On 19 November 1986 he received the Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra award from the Prime Minister Mr Rajiv Gandhi. On 15 January 1987, he was felicitated by Ahmednagar Municipal Corporation and, later on, by the Pune Municipal Corporation. In 1989 the Maharashtra government honoured him with Krishi Bhushanaaward. In 1990 he was honoured with the Padma Shri award.


Sunderlal BahugunaSUNDERLAL BAHAGUNA has played an important role in the Chipko movement, spending long hours walking from village to village gathering support for the movement. His anti-dam campaign has had an impact on the work in the Tehri hydel project on the Ganges in the Tehri Garhwal region of Uttar Pradesh. Basically it was his religious sentiment, which cannot imagine that the holy river the Ganga can be dammed, that propelled him .He has also undertaken numerous fasts to save the people displaced by the project. Along with the Save Himalaya Movement, he is fighting for the rights of the thousands of children who have to travel for miles every day to school because their schools were moved have from Tehri to New Tehri.



mishra_a.jpg (10757 bytes)PROF. VEER BHADRA MISHRA is known all over the world for his efforts to restore the Ganga to its pristine purity. He has spearheaded a movement to clean the Ganga and prevent further pollution. He has devoted his life for the conservation and preservation of water and its sources. He advocates the advanced integrated waste-water ponding system (such as lagoons, oxidation ponds, etc) over the conventional sewage treatment plants.

Variously described as a Hindu priest, hydraulics engineer, and activist who has dedicated his life to purifying the Ganga, Prof. Mishra is by profession the mahant (head priest) of the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi and by temperament a scientist. Making light of the divide between religion and science, Prof. Mishra is both a founder member of the Sankat Mochan Foundation and the head of the Civil Engineering Department at the Benaras Hindu University. He believes ‘the Ganga will inspire us to preserve all the freshwater bodies world over’.

His efforts to save the planet from environmental degradation have been so great that he has been named as one of the modern Saptarshi, or seven adepts. Thanks to his Clean Ganga campaign, Prof. Mishra was selected by the TIME magazine as one of the heroes of the planet. He also figures in the UNEP’s (United Nation Environment Programme’s) global 500 roll of honours. The USAID ( United States Aid for International Development) and other international agencies have supported his activities.



ARVIND GUPTA has been honoured with several awards including the first National Award for Science Popularization amongst children. He has popularized the making of low-cost, eco-friendly toys from discarded tetrapacks, matchboxes, soda straws, and other junk. His aim behind this is not only to give enjoyment to the children but also to give them a sense of pride for having contributed their bit in helping keep the environment clean. In his book Little Toys, he says ‘It is an irony of modern consumerism that junk products are packed in tough cartons. While the frail human body consumes and digests the junk, it is the environment which has to grapple and reckon with the tough, non-biodegradable waste. And in the process humans become sick and the environment decays. But these same materials offer innumerable possibilities for use in low-cost science experiments and in making dynamic toys’.

Mr Gupta began his career as an electrical engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur in 1975 and worked with Telco for 6 years before moving out to pursue things of more interest to him. CAPART (Centre for Advanced People’s Action & Rural Technology )gave him a fellowship to help him in his work. For five years he introduced the toys in the Mirambika school in Delhi, where children made and tested them.



KALLYAN PUKKADAN, a 60-year- old farm worker has meticulously planted about 3500 saplings along a 1- km stretch at the mouth of the Pazhayangadi river in Kerela’s Kannur district. He says that he undertook his mission when he realized that both the depletion of the fish catch and the erosion of the soil were direct results of the disappearing mangroves.

Just before the onset of the summer monsoon, Mr. Pukkadan stops all other work and begins collecting the mature propagates (small vegetative outgrowths that grow into new plants) and replants them in selected areas. He does this at the cost of his wages: he does not want any personal recognition but only recognition of the work done and the need to build awareness among the citizens for further expansion of areas of growth.

Amidst the extensive destruction of the world’s mangrove and wetlands Mr. Pukkadan provides a glimmer of hope.



medha_a.jpg (10998 bytes)MEDHA PATKAR
is the key leader, organizer, and strategist of Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement), a people's movement to stop the construction of a series of dams planned on India's largest westward flowing river, the Narmada. Medha Patkar started her battle by organizing mass rallies and protests against the proposed construction of Narmada dam in 1985, fully aware of the problems that lay ahead of her. Though the gatherings were peaceful, she was repeatedly arrested and beaten by the police. Over the years, she undertook three long hunger strikes to draw attention to the movement.

Patkar’s concern is that the Sardar Sarovar Dam alone would submerge more than 37 000 hectares of forest and agricultural land and displace some 320 000 people whose livelihoods depend on these resources.

For years, the government disregarded Patkar's demand to properly rehabilitate the affected families and to study the feasibility of the dam. In 1993 Patkar and other activists forced the central government to conduct a review of all aspects of the project. The victories are rare, yet it keeps her going. As long as she is able to resist, to fight, there is still hope for humanity and for justice.

Patkar has helped establish a network of activists across the country–the National Alliance of People's Movements, a coalition of citizen organizations united by their opposition to ‘globalization and liberalization’ policies. For her dedicated efforts, Patkar was awarded the 1992 Goldman Environmental Prize.



MURLIDHAR DEVIDAS AMTE is known the world over for his struggles against destructive developmental projects. Stirred by the relentless pace of deforestation, erosion, and devastation caused by development projects on the delicate mountain ecosystems, Bahuguna pledged to devote his life to serve people and save the environment. This dedication to the preservation, restoration, and ecologically sound-use of natural resources spread throughout India and was organized and recognized as the Chipko Movement. As part of this campaign, Bahuguna petitioned Mrs Indira Gandhi and succeeded in extracting a moratorium on cutting trees beyond 1000 metres. A man of the mountains, he is now part of several other national campaigns.

Brought up to believe that the Ganga was sacred, he could not imagine that the holy river could be dammed, and he launched an anti-dam campaign against the Tehri hydel project on the Ganga in the Tehri Garhwal region of Uttar Pradesh. He undertook numerous satyagrahas or fasts to save the people displaced by the project. Along with the Save Himalaya Movement, he is fighting for the rights of the thousands of children who have to travel for miles every day to school because their schools were moved from Tehri to New Tehri.

‘Nothing in this world can be achieved without penance,’ Sunderlal Bahuguna told friends who feared for his life when he was sitting on a fast unto death against the Tehri dam project. A Magsaysay Award winner and veteran of many environmental battles, he has been a torchbearer of peaceful non-cooperation against injustice.

Encapsulating the natural essence of the mountains, he says, ‘Why should a river, a mountain, and forest or the ocean be killed, while we cling to life?’