Silkot Tea-estate Movement

Silkot Tea-estate Movement

The Silkot Tea Estate was established during the British Raj. The tea estate sprawls over 346 acres and was used to grow tea to supply the neighboring states. Along with the tea plantation the estate was comprised of a large forest, which three villages were dependent on for their firewood and fodder requirements. Small conflicts in the past had established a system in which the villagers were allowed to graze their cattle and collect firewood in exchange for a nominal fee. This situation remained unchanged until the time of independence.

When the British moved out, the estate was auctioned and the new owners refused to let the local people use the land. On top of that, trees were cut down by other timber companies, despite the fact that this was illegal. Also, the tea plantation was eradicated cutting off the only source of income for many of the laborers who had worked there.

During the 70's Swami ji was working in the Chamoli area and had become well-known for his efforts in the university movement. He was asked to spearhead a movement that would reinstate the people's rights on the estate. He also began addressing the fact that the local timber mafia was decimating the forests causing widespread environmental degradation. Huge community gatherings were held, and the local men and women were encouraged to fight for their rights.

From there the movement became an awareness campaign, and posters were printed and put up everywhere in an attempt to inform the people and the government of the situation. On April 15, 1975, there was a huge procession in Garsain. Hundreds of signatures were gathered and another gathering was organized for the 16th.

Meanwhile, the local government had been keeping a close eye on Swami ji, and later that year he was arrested in Karnaprayag. An obscure law from British times was used to hold him and he spent four months in jail. Eventually, the case was dropped and he was honorably discharged.

The problems at the estate continued, and in 1978 Nanda Singh was appointed manager. The timber industry continued to wreak havoc on the forests and the local people were still being deprived of their firewood and fodder. But later that year, with Swami ji's persistence and the help and involvement of the community the rights of the people to graze their cattle and use the land of the estate were re-installed. It was a huge victory for the movement.

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