With the conclusion of the Sino-Indian border conflict in 1963, the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh experienced a growth in development, especially in the rural Himalayan regions. The interior roads built for the conflict attracted many foreign-based logging companies that sought access to the region’s vast forest resources. Although the rural villagers depended heavily on the forests for subsistence—both directly, for food and fuel, and indirectly, for services such as water purification and soil stabilization—government policy prevented the villagers from managing the lands and denied them access to the lumber. Many of the commercial logging endeavours were mismanaged, and the clearcut forests led to lower agricultural yields, erosion, depleted water resources, and increased flooding throughout much of the surrounding areas.
In 1964 environmentalist and Gandhian social activist Chandi Prasad Bhatt founded a cooperative organization, Dasholi Gram Swarajya Sangh (later renamed Dasholi Gram Swarajya Mandal [DGSM]), to foster small industries for rural villagers, using local resources. When industrial logging was linked to the severe monsoon floods that killed more than 200 people in the region in 1970, DGSM became a force of opposition against the large-scale industry. The first Chipko protest occurred near the village of Mandal in the upper Alaknanda valley in April 1973. The villagers, having been denied access to a small number of trees with which to build agricultural tools, were outraged when the government allotted a much larger plot to a sporting goods manufacturer. When their appeals were denied, Chandi Prasad Bhatt led villagers into the forest and embraced the trees to prevent logging. After many days of those protests, the government canceled the company’s logging permit and granted the original allotment requested by DGSM.
With the success in Mandal, DGSM workers and Sunderlal Bahuguna, a local environmentalist, began to share Chipko’s tactics with people in other villages throughout the region. One of the next major protests occurred in 1974 near the village of Reni, where more than 2,000 trees were scheduled to be felled. Following a large student-led demonstration, the government summoned the men of the surrounding villages to a nearby city for compensation, ostensibly to allow the loggers to proceed without confrontation. However, they were met with the women of the village, led by Gaura Devi, who refused to move out of the forest and eventually forced the loggers to withdraw. The action in Reni prompted the state government to establish a committee to investigate deforestation in the Alaknanda valley and ultimately led to a 10-year ban on commercial logging in the area.
The Chipko movement thus began to emerge as a peasant and women’s movement for forest rights, though the various protests were largely decentralized and autonomous. In addition to the characteristic “tree hugging,” Chipko protesters utilized a number of other techniques grounded in Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha (nonviolent resistance). For example, Bahuguna famously fasted for two weeks in 1974 to protest forest policy. In 1978, in the Advani forest in the Tehri Garhwal district, Chipko activist Dhoom Singh Negi fasted to protest the auctioning of the forest, while local women tied sacred threads around the trees and read from the Bhagavadgita. In other areas, chir pines (Pinus roxburghii) that had been tapped for resin were bandaged to protest their exploitation. In Pulna village in the Bhyundar valley in 1978, the women confiscated the loggers’ tools and left receipts for them to be claimed if they withdrew from the forest. It is estimated that between 1972 and 1979, more than 150 villages were involved with the Chipko movement, resulting in 12 major protests and many minor confrontations in Uttarakhand. The movement’s major success came in 1980, when an appeal from Bahuguna to Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi resulted in a 15-year ban on commercial felling in the Uttarakhand Himalayas. Similar bans were enacted in Himachal Pradesh and the former Uttaranchal.
As the movement continued, protests became more project-oriented and expanded to include the entire ecology of the region, ultimately becoming the “Save Himalaya” movement. Between 1981 and 1983, Bahuguna marched 5,000 km (3,100 miles) across the Himalayas to bring the movement to prominence. Throughout the 1980s many protests were focused on the Tehri dam on the Bhagirathi River and various mining operations, resulting in the closure of at least one limestone quarry. Similarly, a massive reforestation effort led to the planting of more than one million trees in the region. In 2004 Chipko protests resumed in response to the lifting of the logging ban in Himachal Pradesh but were unsuccessful in its reenactment.
The contemporary India experiences an almost unrestricted exploitation of resources because of the lure of new consumerist lifestyles. The balance of nature is disrupted. This has led to many conflicts in the society. In this article, we discuss the major environmental movements in India.
What is an Environmental Movement?
- An environmental movement can be defined as a social or political movement, for the conservation of environment or for the improvement of the state of the environment. The terms ‘green movement’ or ‘conservation movement’ are alternatively used to denote the same.
- The environmental movements favour the sustainable management of natural resources. The movements often stress the protection of the environment via changes in public policy. Many movements are centred on ecology, health and human rights.
- Environmental movements range from the highly organized and formally institutionalized ones to the radically informal activities.
- The spatial scope of various environmental movements ranges from being local to the almost global.
Major Environmental Movements in India
Some of the major environmental movements in India during the period 1700 to 2000 are the following.
- Year: 1700s
- Place: Khejarli, Marwar region, Rajasthan state.
- Leaders: Amrita Devi along with Bishnoi villagers in Khejarli and surrounding villages.
- Aim: Save sacred trees from being cut down by the king’s soldiers for a new palace.
What was it all about: Amrita Devi, a female villager could not bear to witness the destruction of both her faith and the village’s sacred trees. She hugged the trees and encouraged others to do the same. 363 Bishnoi villagers were killed in this movement. The Bishnoi tree martyrs were influenced by the teachings of Guru Maharaj Jambaji, who founded the Bishnoi faith in 1485 and set forth principles forbidding harm to trees and animals. The king who came to know about these events rushed to the village and apologized, ordering the soldiers to cease logging operations. Soon afterwards, the maharajah designated the Bishnoi state as a protected area, forbidding harm to trees and animals. This legislation still exists today in the region.
2. Chipko Movement
- Year: 1973
- Place: In Chamoli district and later at Tehri-Garhwal district of Uttarakhand.
- Leaders: Sundarlal Bahuguna, Gaura Devi, Sudesha Devi, Bachni Devi, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Govind Singh Rawat, Dhoom Singh Negi, Shamsher Singh Bisht and Ghanasyam Raturi.
- Aim: The main objective was to protect the trees on the Himalayan slopes from the axes of contractors of the forest.
What was it all about: Mr. Bahuguna enlightened the villagers by conveying the importance of trees in the environment which checks the erosion of soil, cause rains and provides pure air. The women of Advani village of Tehri-Garhwal tied the sacred thread around trunks of trees and they hugged the trees, hence it was called ‘Chipko Movement’ or ‘hug the tree movement’. The main demand of the people in these protests was that the benefits of the forests (especially the right to fodder) should go to local people. The Chipko movement gathered momentum in 1978 when the women faced police firings and other tortures. The then state Chief Minister, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna set up a committee to look into the matter, which eventually ruled in favor of the villagers. This became a turning point in the history of eco-development struggles in the region and around the world.
3. Save Silent Valley Movement
- Year: 1978
- Place: Silent Valley, an evergreen tropical forest in the Palakkad district of Kerala, India.
- Leaders: The Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) an NGO, and the poet-activist Sughathakumari played an important role in the Silent Valley protests.
- Aim: In order to protect the Silent Valley, the moist evergreen forest from being destroyed by a hydroelectric project.
What was it all about: The Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) proposed a hydroelectric dam across the Kunthipuzha River that runs through Silent Valley. In February 1973, the Planning Commission approved the project at a cost of about Rs 25 crores. Many feared that the project would submerge 8.3 sq km of untouched moist evergreen forest. Several NGOs strongly opposed the project and urged the government to abandon it. In January 1981, bowing to unrelenting public pressure, Indira Gandhi declared that Silent Valley will be protected. In June 1983 the Center re-examined the issue through a commission chaired by Prof. M.G.K. Menon. In November 1983 the Silent Valley Hydroelectric Project was called off. In 1985, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi formally inaugurated the Silent Valley National Park.
4. Jungle Bachao Andholan
- Year: 1982
- Place: Singhbhum district of Bihar
- Leaders: The tribals of Singhbhum.
- Aim: Against governments decision to replace the natural sal forest with Teak.
What was it all about: The tribals of Singhbhum district of Bihar started the protest when the government decided to replace the natural sal forests with the highly-priced teak. This move was called by many as “Greed Game Political Populism”. Later this movement spread to Jharkhand and Orissa.
5. Appiko Movement
- Year: 1983
- Place: Uttara Kannada and Shimoga districts of Karnataka State
- Leaders: Appiko’s greatest strengths lie in it being neither driven by a personality nor having been formally institutionalised. However, it does have a facilitator in Pandurang Hegde. He helped launch the movement in 1983.
- Aim: Against the felling and commercialization of natural forest and the ruin of ancient livelihood.
What was it all about: It can be said that Appiko movement is the southern version of the Chipko movement. The Appiko Movement was locally known as “Appiko Chaluvali”. The locals embraced the trees which were to be cut by contractors of the forest department. The Appiko movement used various techniques to raise awareness such as foot marches in the interior forest, slide shows, folk dances, street plays etc. The second area of the movement’s work was to promote afforestation on denuded lands. The movement later focused on the rational use of ecosphere through introducing alternative energy resourceto reducece pressure on the forest. The movement became a success. The current status of the project is – stopped.
6. Narmada Bachao Andholan (NBA)
- Year: 1985
- Place: Narmada River, which flows through the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
- Leaders: Medha Patker, Baba Amte, adivasis, farmers, environmentalists and human rights activists.
- Aim: A social movement against a number of large dams being built across the Narmada River.
What was it all about: The movement first started as a protest for not providing proper rehabilitation and resettlement for the people who have been displaced by the construction of Sardar Sarovar Dam. Later on, the movement turned its focus on the preservation of the environment and the eco-systems of the valley. Activists also demanded the height of the dam to be reduced to 88 m from the proposed height of 130m. World Bank withdrew from the project.
The environmental issue was taken into court. In October 2000, the Supreme Court gave a judgment approving the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam with a condition that height of the dam could be raised to 90 m. This height is much higher than the 88 m which anti-dam activists demanded, but it is definitely lower than the proposed height of 130 m. The project is now largely financed by the state governments and market borrowings. The project is expected to be fully completed by 2025.
Although not successful, as the dam could not be prevented, the NBA has created an anti-big dam opinion in India and outside. It questioned the paradigm of development. As a democratic movement, it followed the Gandhian way 100 per cent.
7. Tehri Dam Conflict
- Year: 1990’s
- Place: Bhagirathi River near Tehri in Uttarakhand.
- Leaders: Sundarlal Bahuguna
- Aim: The protest was against the displacement of town inhabitants and environmental consequence of the weak ecosystem.
Tehri dam attracted national attention in the 1980s and the 1990s. The major objections include, seismic sensitivity of the region, submergence of forest areas along with Tehri town etc. Despite the support from other prominent leaders like Sunderlal Bahuguna, the movement has failed to gather enough popular support at national as well as international levels.
- Appiko – The Hindu
- NBA – The Hindu
Article by: Priyanka Sunil