Basanti Devi, environmentalist who saved Kosi River

by Team Conscious Carma

Conferred with the Padma Shri Award this year for her contribution to the ‘Save Kosi Movement’ and environmental protection, Devi is also looked upon as a champion of women empowerment.

Indian environmentalist Basanti Devi was born in Pithoragarh (Uttarakhand) in 1958. She got married at a young age of 12 years while she was in class 5 and was widowed at 14. 

A chance visit to Kausani Ashram inspired her to take up social work and she decided to stay there and dedicate her life in serving humanity. At the ashram, she completed her studies as well as got involved with opening Bal Baris, recreational centres for children in remote villages, that also looked into their nutrition.

Thereafter, she was given the work to save water and the environment in Kosi river basin villages as level in water sources there was continuously depleting. The Kosi River  is an important resource in Uttarakhand. The river is responsible for major flooding in Bihar that can affect tens of thousands of hectares of land and a million people. Devi read an article that estimated that the river would cease to exist in a decade if the felling of trees continued at the current rate. She went to speak to local women explaining that this was their forest and their land and asking what they would do once the river had dried up. This began to convince people and both the villagers as well as timber companies agreed to cease to cut new wood. Villagers agreed that they would only burn old wood.

Devi then formed  Mahila Sangthans (women organisations) in almost 50 villages from Kausani to Katli village in Someswar which not only worked toward saving the environment of Kosi region but also empowered women by the way of their increased participation in social works.

For 20 years Devi used to travel in 50 villages of the Kosi region with the aim of saving trees, environment, empowering women and eradicating liquor consumption from the lives of villagers.

The effects have been slow to see but it is noted that springs that used to dry up in the summer now run all year. Moreover, the forest shows more diversity with more broad leafed trees and plants appearing.

“It started resulting in surplus water in once almost dry area of Kosi watershed region, now, after revival of some old springs, the villagers of Someswar area have started sowing to grow paddy crop”, says Devi.

She has also been honoured with Nari Shakti award 2016,  the highest award for women in India and DEVI award in 2016.

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