Ban polybags entirely in Himachal: Kinkari Devi


Write-up and photo: D D Sharma

Kinkari Devi
Kinkari Devi at her home in Sangrah, Sirmaur

Solan: Gazing at the vastness of the sky, Kinkari Devi sits outside her house in Sangrah, a remote village in Sirmaur district of Himachal Pradesh. There is silence around, but wait, …she asks this writer to be quite for a moment. “I feel a tree is being cut somewhere.” Looking around, I find nothing as such, but Kinkari knows not all is right there. It’s the sixth sense of the environmentalist in her who has for decades been fighting mining mafia in the area.

“Firm determination and commitment towards hard work makes no job impossible,” she says. Having fought a life-long battle against environmental degradation in the area, Kinkari is far from being satisfied with her work. At the personal level, she has been decorated with many awards for environment protection and women empowerment, including those conferred by Hillary Clinton and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but that hardly means anything for the activist in her.

“I can still hear illegal mining being carried out in the area. Over the years I have realised that unless it is made a mass movement, environment will always remain threatened. Look, how people have been manipulating the system to circumvent laws, she says. Though illiterate, septuagenarian Kinkari understands the implications of messing up with the environment better than most of us. And she does not need to know the names of green house gases for that. “Life teaches you enough,” she says.

Two decades ago, limestone mining had emerged as a big occupation in Sirmaur district, but reckless mining resulted in forests destruction and water pollution. In 1985, a self help group (SHG) associated with environment protection organised a workshop at Sangrah focusing on environment conservation. Kinkari Devi was a silent spectator at the workshop at that time, but later an inner urge motivated her to the extent that she launched a movement to seek a ban on these mining operations. “At that time we started facing problems like shortage of grass and wood, soil erosion, etc, and the mines also created lots of dust. Seeing all this, I was convinced the mines were responsible for the changes,” Kinkari explains.

Despite having no resources and being poor and illiterate, she even approached the Supreme Court against the powerful lobby of miners. On the way Kinkari did not lose courage and never deviated from her goal despite being threatened and reprimanded. She faced many impediments but her love for environment always gave her strength to bear with all these problems and at last success came her way when the High Court banned mining in the area in 1991. At that time Kinkari camped in Shimla for 19 days without money and without any support. Later the miners approached the Supreme Court but there too Kinkari won.

Many institutions and environment protection groups came forward to honour Kinkari Devi for her exemplary courage. During the year 1995-96, Sant Vinoba Bhave award was conferred on her, followed by Bhatia Memorial Charitable Trust award in ’97. She also got an opportunity to represent India at the fourth World Women Conference at Beijing in China where she was honoured by Hillary Clinton. She was also honored with Jhansi Ki Rani award by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But all these awards mean noting to her today, as she finds hardly any kind of support for the cause. As she fights to make two ends meet, Kinkari has not given up her fight against environmental degradation as well. “I am totally against the use of polythene bags and I want them to be completely banned. But I am sorry to say that lack of awareness among people is not letting them think about the seriousness of the issue. I want the new generation to do work like me but nobody comes forward,” she laments.

Under the Himachal Pradesh Non-Biodegradable Garbage (Control) Act, 1995, the use of polythene carrybags, below 70 microns, has been banned. However, the use of polythenes above 70 microns are still prevalent in the state and some shopkeepers do use the banned bags stealthily.

Anyone ready for the challenge?

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  1. A great person to emulate.


    Mods–Please change 'minors' to 'miners' in last line of para 5.

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