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Environmental Movement in India

Environmental Movement in India

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Published by Anupam Bhengra

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Published by: Anupam Bhengra on Oct 29, 2011
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Environmentalism is a broad philosophy, ideology and social movement regarding concerns for environmental conservation and improvement of the health of the environment, particularly as the measure for this health seeks to incorporate the concerns of non-human elements. Environmentalism advocates the preservation, restoration and/or improvement of the natural environment, and may be referred to as a movement to control pollution. For this reason, concepts such as a Land Ethic, Environmental Ethics, Biodiversity, and Ecology figure predominantly. At its crux, environmentalism is an attempt to balance relations between humanity and their broader organismic and biogeochemical milieu in such a way that all the components are accorded a proper degree of respect. The environmental movement is a broad generic term which is generally used to describe and understand different types of local struggles and conflicts concerned with livelihood issues and ecological security within the larger context of the development debate. These struggles in fact critiqued and questioned the notion of development and conservation ecology pursued by the Indian state and its officials since colonial time. The genesis of the environmental movement in India can be traced to the Chipko movement (1973) in Garhwal region in the new state of Uttaranchal. In fact, between 1970s and 1980s there were several struggles in India around issues of rights to forest and water which raised larger ecological concerns like rights of communities in forest resources, sustainability of large scale environmental projects like dams, issues of displacement and rehabilitation etc. The Indian environmental movement is critical of the colonial model of development pursued by the post–colonial state. The post– independent state failed to build up a development agenda based on the needs of the people and continued to advocate the modern capitalist agenda which led to the destruction of environment, poverty and marginalisation of rural communities. Formation of national parks, sanctuaries, protected areas in India, in fact represents the conventional environmentalism which the Indian state advocated with the aim of preserving wildlife and biodiversity by pushing people out of these areas. In response to this conventional environmentalism which considered the Indian state to be the custodian of natural resources, the environmental movement in India advocated the ideology of ‘environmentalism of the poor’. It not only criticized modern developmentalism but also strongly advocated the revival of traditional ‘self – sufficient village economy’. It brought communities to the centre stage of Indian environmental discourse. The environmentalist stated that local communities were best suited to conserve natural resources as their survival depended in the sustainable use of such resources. They argued that in order to make the sustainable use of the resource the customary rights or traditional rights should be given back to the people who were taken away by the State, and traditional institutions should also be recognised. In a nutshell, the environmental movement in India concentrates on the issue of equity in relation to access and use of natural resources. Unlike in the West, a significant characteristic of environmental movements in India is that they have mainly involved the women, the poor and disadvantaged masses who have been directly affected by or are victims of environmental degradation. Thus these movements are primarily political expressions of the struggle of local communities and people who are victims of environmental degradation or abuse of resources.

Every bit of grass and plants were chopped to feed the animals. the land was not able to withstand the destruction from the drought as a large number of trees had been felled. CHIPKO MOVEMENT . he was overcome by people's devotion. there was a man called 'Jambeshwar' who was acutely pained at the tragedy but wisely learnt a lesson. when many places are facing acute shortage of water and pollution of air. People left their homes to search for water. there was a severe drought in a village called Pipasar of Rajasthan. we need to take a lesson from Bishnois. the soldiers of king of Jodhpur tried to cut trees in a Bishnoi village of Khejadali so that a new place may be built for the king. According to the religion preached by Jambaji. One can spot a Bishnoi village easily as being more green and abundant in wildlife. Even today. the Bishnois hugged the trees to protect them. is found to be in greater number in Bishnoi villages than outside. Jambaji put down his thoughts into 29 principles which are followed by his disciples who are known as Bishnois (20+9) or twentyniners. The drought lasted for three years. This helped to make villages greener and restore the natural ecosystems. Vegetation naturally helped to recharge the ground water. He preached that the way in which we lived should be in harmony with nature and not against it. At that time.D. . But true of their religion. If life was to survive.BISHNOI MOVEMENT In the year 1471 A.Killing of any animals or bird.. which is in the list of endangered species. people must understand the value of environment. gave the religion state sanction and ensured that the wishes of Bishnois were respected in future. there was strict ban on:. He came to be known as Guru Maharaj Jambaji. Bishnois continue to protect the trees and animals. In today's environment.Felling of a green tree. The Bishnois tried to reason with them and stop them but in vain. Children starved. Conservation is a religion every human being should adopt. The soldiers attacked them to overcome the protest and 363 Bishnois were killed. after many generations. He noticed that. cattle were dying and there was not a drop of water. The population of Black Buck. When the king heard of this massacre and the unique religion. land and water. unlike in the past. He ordered his men to withdraw. About 300 years after this religion was founded. The unique religion of conservation was taken up by a large number of people in Rajasthan and the number of Bishnois increased to the entire village communities.

the then Prime Minister of India. A large group of them from 84 villages led by a lady called Amrita Devi laid down their lives in an effort to protect the trees from being felled on the orders of the Maharaja (King) of Jodhpur. He encouraged the development of local industries based on the conservation and sustainable use of forest wealth for local benefit. With encouragement from a local NGO (nongovernmental organization). mainly village women. The name of the movement comes from the word 'embrace'. were the first to save trees by hugging them. went into the forest and formed a circle around the trees preventing the men from cutting them down. Some other persons have also been involved in this movement and have given it proper direction. They coined the slogan: 'What do the forests bear? Soil. Bachni Devi and many other village women. In the 20th century. Not many people know that over the last few centuries many communities in India have helped save nature. an organized resistance to the destruction of forests spread throughout India and came to be known as the Chipko movement. Chandi Prasad Bhatt. the maharaja gave a strong royal decree preventing the cutting of trees in all Bishnoi villages. The first Chipko action took place spontaneously in April 1973 in the village of Mandal in the upper Alaknanda valley and over the next five years spread to many districts of the Himalayas in Uttar Pradesh. and prevented the contractors' from felling them. water and pure air'. The success achieved by this protest led to similar protests in other parts of the country.In the 1970s. the women of the area. The success of the Chipko movement in the hills saved thousands of trees from being felled. wrote a poem describing the method of embracing the trees to save them from felling: ‘Embrace the trees and . whose songs echo throughout the Himalayas of Uttar Pradesh. Mr Sunderlal Bahuguna. Mr Chandi Prasad Bhatt is another leader of the Chipko movement. it began in the hills where the forests are the main source of livelihood. After this incident. as the villagers hugged the trees. a Gandhian activist and philosopher. Mr Bahuguna coined the Chipko slogan: 'ecology is permanent economy'. One such is the Bishnoi community of Rajasthan. The original 'Chipko movement' was started around 260 years back in the early part of the 18th century in Rajasthan by this community. From their origins as a spontaneous protest against logging abuses in Uttar Pradesh in the Himalayas. The Chipko movement of 1973 was one of the most famous among these. This angered the villagers because their similar demand to use wood for making agricultural tools had been earlier denied. Dhoom Singh Negi. DGSS (Dasoli Gram Swarajya Sangh). It was sparked off by the government's decision to allot a plot of forest area in the Alaknanda valley to a sports goods company. have successfully banned the felling of trees in a number of regions and influenced natural resource policy in India. resulted in the green-felling ban. under the leadership of an activist. Mr Ghanasyam Raturi. whose appeal to Mrs Indira Gandhi. since agricultural activities cannot be carried out easily. supporters of the Chipko movement. the Chipko poet.

which supports a large variety of people with distinguished culture and tradition ranging from the indigenous (tribal) people inhabited in the jungles here to the large number of rural population. There are plans to build over 3000 big and small dams along the river. The proposed Sardar Sarovar Dam and Narmada Sagar will displace more than 250. The Narmada Bachao Andolan has been pressurizing the World Bank to withdraw its loan from the project through media.Save them from being felled. In addition to the 15-year ban in Uttar Pradesh. Save them from being looted. The property of our hills. the then Prime Minister of India. . it has now been turned into the International protest. The proponents are of the view that it will produce 1450 MW of electricity and pure drinking water to 40 million people covering thousands of villages and towns. gaining support from NGO'S all around the globe. It is a multi crore project that will generate big revenue for the government. They believe that the water and energy could be provided to the people through alternative technological means. But the opponents say that this hydro project will devastate human lives and bio diversity by destroying thousands of acres of forests and agricultural land.000 people. The Narmada Valley Development plan is the most promised and most challenging plan in the history of India. started in 1985. The big fight is over the resettlement or the rehabilitation of these people. Some of the dams have been already been completed such as Tawa and Bargi Dams. supported by US$550 million loan by the World Bank. the movement has spread to many states in the country. against the construction of huge dam on the Narmada River. hunger strikes. massive marches. Protestors are agitating the issue through the mass media. Since then. the movement has stopped felling in the Western Ghats and the Vindhyas and has generated pressure for a natural resource policy that is more sensitive to people's needs and ecological requirements. Narmada is the India's largest west flowing river. which would be ecologically beneficial. rallies and the through the on screen of several documentary films. but they been harassed. arrested and beaten up by the police several times. Led by one of the prominent leader Medha Patkar. On the other hand it will overall deprive thousands of people of their livelihood. NARMADA BACHAO ANDOLAN Narmada Bachao Andolan is the most powerful mass movement. Although they have been protesting peacefully.' The Chipko protests in Uttar Pradesh achieved a major victory in 1980 with a 15-year ban on green felling in the Himalayan forests of that state by the order of Mrs Indira Gandhi. The two proposals are already under construction.

It was started in 1973 to save the Silent Valley Reserve Forest in from being flooded by a hydroelectric project. an evergreen tropical forest in the Palakkad district of Kerala. founder of the Madras Snake Park and the Madras Crocodile Bank. Indira Gandhi. approved the project. The Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) decided to implement the Silent Valley HydroElectric Project (SVHEP) centred on a dam across the Kuntipuzha River in 1973. In 1928 the location at Sairandhri on the Kuntipuzha River was identified as an ideal site for electricity generation. Because of concern about the endangered lion-tailed macaque. The valley was declared as Silent Valley National Park in 1985. India's fiercest environmental debate of the decade. Kuntipuzha one of the major rivers takes its origin in the flush green forests of Silent valley. The proposal was enquired by National Committee on Environmental Planning and Co-ordination (NCEPC) and suggested 17 safeguards to be implemented in case the project implemented. Romulus Whitaker. Even then from 1974 to 1975 a very large number of trees were felled in the area. SILENT VALLEY MOVEMENT Save Silent Valley was a social movement aimed at the protection of Silent valley. The resulting reservoir would have flood 8. A study and survey was conducted in 1958 of the area about the possibility of a hydroelectric project of 120 MV and one costing Rs. A shortage of funds delayed activity. . who has made open efforts to support Narmada Bachao Andolan. In 1978 Smt. the Honourable Prime Minister of India.3 km² of virgin rainforest. He said he only want that those who have been rendered homeless should be given a roof. was probably the first person to draw public attention to the small and remote area. After the announcement of imminent dam construction the valley became the focal point of "Save Silent Valley". KSEB announced its plan to begin dam construction in 1973. 1978) passed a resolution recommending protection of Lion-tailed Macaques in Silent Valley and Kalakkad and the controversy heated up. the issue was brought to public attention. In 1979 the Government of Kerala passed Legislation regarding the Silent Valley Protection Area (Protection of Ecological balance Act of 1979) and issued a notification declaring the exclusion of the Hydroelectric Project Area from the proposed National Park. He pleaded to the common people to take part in the moment and come up with the best possible solutions. In 1977 the Kerala Forest Research Institute carried out an Ecological Impact study of the Silent Valley area and proposed that the area be declared a Biosphere Reserve. with the condition that the State Government en-act Legislation ensuring the necessary safeguards. USSR.The strong protests throughout the country not only made impact on the local people but has also influenced the several famous celebrities like film star Aamir Khan . Also that year the IUCN (Ashkhabad. 17 Crore was later proposed by the Kerala State Electricity Board. India.

the Government of Kelala declared the Silent Valley area. p. The poet activist Sugatha kumari played an important role in the silent valley protest and her poem "Marathinu Stuthi" (Ode to a Tree) became a symbol for the protest from the intellectual community and was the opening song/prayer of most of the "save the Silent Valley" campaign meetings. with the aim of "preventing erosion of valuable genes from the area". M. The women are accustomed to responsibility and leadership for community survival. K. G. EFFECTS OF THE MOVEMENT A main aspect of the three movements is their integrative social effect on the regions where they are active. the renowned Agricultural Scientist. is partially responsible for their prominence in the environmental movement. In 1982 a multidisciplinary committee with Prof. Menon's Committee submitted its report. caste. against the clear cutting of forests in the Hydroelectric Project area and the court ordered a stop to the clear cutting. A petition of writ was filed before the High Court of Kerala. The high status of women in the Himalayan area and among the tribal groups of the Narmada valley. ethnicity. religion.[6]Listen:(8:46) to Dr. and region by stressing shared interests in saving the environment. In December. They cut across social and cultural cleavages that might have been expected to be divisive. On October 31. New Amarambalam.83. August 27. Swaminathan speaking on Sustainable Development. M. Attappadi in Kerala and Kunda in Tamilnadu reserve forests. Their work involves them directly and daily with . After a careful study of the Menon report. excluding the Hydroelectric Project area. age.Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishath (KSSP) effectively aroused public opinion on the requirement to save Silent Valley. despite recommendations by expert committees and scientists. Early in 1983.52 km² including the Silent Valley. was created to decide if the Hydroelectric Project was feasible without any significant ecological damage. called at the Silent Valley region and his suggestion was 389. M. eminent ornithologist of the Bombay Natural History Society. Women have been prominent as leaders and participants. They unite people who differ by sex. 1984 Indira Gandhi was assassinated and on November 15 the Silent Valley forests were declared as a National Park. Prime Minister of India requested the Government of Kerala to stop further works in the project area until all aspects were fully discussed. Dr. They also published a Techno-economic and SocioPolitical assessment report on the Silent Valley Hydroelectric project. S. Swaminathan. Menon as chairman. the Hon. should be made into a National Rainforest Biosphere Reserve. as a National Park.S. and then Secretary to the Department of Agriculture. class. Prof. visited the Valley and appealed for cancellation of the Hydroelectric Project. including unusual freedom of action and movement that accompany their role in the subsistence economy. Dr. High Court of Kerala lifted the ban on clear cutting. Salim Ali. 2002 In January 1980 the Hon. Prime Minister of India decided to abandon the Project. but then the Hon. though the boundaries of the Silent Valley Park were limited and no buffer zone was created.

They are alert to environmental changes. The people have resisted it in various parts of India. Likewise the Save the Narmada and Silent Valley movements have drawn grassroots support among urban intelligentsia and through linkages with like-minded groups in India. The integrative nature of the movement cuts across ancient and powerful ethnic barriers. The three movements provide a model for the resolution of conflicts over natural resources and a strategy for human survival of ecological disaster. and they respond readily and knowledgeably to the need to protect the environment. illegal logging. but they joined forces to protect their forests. class. and social experiences as they join in a common cause. but it has expanded to include the distribution of ecological costs. The two ethnic groups that populate Uttarakhand. . mainly through the Gandhian non-cooperative method of protest. During the past century there has been a progressive encroachment by the state on the rights and privileges of the people to forest resources. well known as forest Satyagraha that was initially applied to environmental concerns by the Chipko movement during the 1970s. This movement had its origin in the politics of the distribution of the benefits of resources. The movement also has integrative effects at the national level by bringing together people from various regions of a diverse country and by providing a prototype of method and organization for similar problems elsewhere in India. region. Both young and old participate in the movement. in the Western Ghats.forests and natural resources. Known there as Appiko. the Paharis and the Bhotiyas. Student participants come not only from Uttarakhand but also from the plains and have been among the most active Chipko workers. In 1983 the method pioneered in Uttarakhand was adopted in Karnataka. They bridge an often difficult gap of age. the movement encountered commercial exploitation and official apathy similar to those found in Uttarakhand. occupy land at different altitudes. by farming people to oppose reckless.

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