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Environmental Movements in India

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 Uttranchal. 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 critised 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 which 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.

This section discusses some of the forest-based movements, Anti-dam movements and movements caused due to the environmental pollution. The forest-based movements discussed here include Chipko and Appiko movements; the anti-Dam movement - NBA.

The Silent Valley Movement, Kerala

The silent valley is located in Palghat district of Kerala. It is surrounded by different hills of the State stretched over a total area of 8950 hectares. The flora and fauna of the valley is natural and very rich in biodiversity. The valley has contributed varieties of genes for pest and disease control of rice. The idea of a dam on river Kunthipuja in this hill system was conceived by the British in 1929, while the technical feasibility survey was carried out in 1958 and the project was sanctioned by the Planning Commission of Government of India in 1973 with a cost estimation of Rs. 25.00 crores, which enhanced to 80 crores in 1980. The project had dual purpose of generating 240 MW of power, to irrigate 10,000 hectares of additional crop land and to create jobs for 2000 to 3000 people during the construction period.

Peoples Response

Local people lobbied for the project under the erroneous assumption that their prospects would improve as a consequence of a big scheme being located in their area (Darryl, 1985: 19). All political wings of major political parties also favoured the process of development identical with that of industrial development. However, the silent valley issue in Kerala demonstrated all party ignorance of ecological balance (Krishna Iyer, 1992). In subsequent period the Kerala government passed an ordinance in the second half of 1978 to protect the ecological balance in the “Silent Valley Protected Area”. By the time the movement against the project from all corners was raised from all sections of the population, the environmentalists came forward to oppose the project from a wider perspective. The significance of Western Ghats as an important asset in the western Peninsula was raised.

In Stockholm Prime Minister of India made several commitments to the rest of the World regarding the protection of environment. The Task Force report came in 1977 which highlighted the genetic value of an undisturbed rain forest like Silent Valley (Darryl, 1985).

The report viewed that “Forest as a natural reserve can yield wood and water on a renewable and sustainable basis, therefore any form of intervention that adversely affects the generation of such resources on a long term basis cannot be termed as development.” The Task Force report became a platform for the environmentalists to generate large scale disagreement against the project. The International Unions for conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) made a resolution in 1978 for the presentation of the silent valley. The Kerala Forest Research Institute also made an on the spot, assessment and recommended the declaration of the silent valley as a bio-sphere reserve.

Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) created mass awareness against the project. KSSP based on certain ideology was identified in popularizing Science to the people (Guha, 1988). Later on KSSP formed a registered Society named as the “Protection of Silent Valley” at Calicut (Prasad, 1987) and later with their logical study based on techno-economic feasibility and socio-economic assessment of the project turned down most of the arguments given by the pro￾dam forces. Since KSSP had a close network with people in north Kerala, they were able to convince the people that the project will not be beneficial to them in the long run due to its destructive affects over natural resources. Finally, the Kerala Government made Silent Valley a national Park considering the importance of valuable rich flora and fauna which needs conservation and proper management. It also recognised that this precious reserve of the life forms and the gene pool is the only undisturbed tropical rain forest in true sense in Kerala, which needs to be preserved permanently (Darryl, Ibid).

Significance of the Silent Valley Movement

Like other social movements in India, Silent Valley movement was also spontaneous, natural, initially went through unorganised processes but later on became more organized. In initial phase the local level groups protesting against the project neither could nor tried to contact the larger platforms because of their apprehensions and lack of clarity on the issue. In initial period the movement at local level had the experiment with the outside forces before co-opting them into their fold. The movement also established the fact that civil society reflects or offers the true concept of development. From the experiences one can say that if the philosophy of the movement gets supports by the higher level platform then it became easy to establish the facts of the concept of people’s development as a part of the development process. This movement contributed certain path ways to the other movements in India. It also established the fact that development should not bring destitution to the people and destruction to the natural resources base. Proper awareness is required among people on ecology and environment, for making a movement of this magnitude successful. In later period this movement forced the State to go for small hydro-power projects which became more environment friendly, less destructive to the natural base of the State (Khosoo, 1988).

Chipko Movement, Uttar Pradesh

Chipko Movement started in April, 24 1973 at Mandal of Chamoli district of Gharwal division of Utter Pradesh. The Organiser of the movement had a belief on the ideology of non-violence as propagated by Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave. The movement was raised out of ecological destabilization in the hills. The fall in the productivity in forest produces forced the hill dwellers to depend on the market which became a central concern for the inhabitants. The continuous natural distress like flood, and land slide due to Alakananda (1970) river and other catashophes like Tawaghat tragedy (1977) and Bhagirathi blockade (1978) Branch Rivers of river Ganga caused massive flood in the Gangetic plains. These floods brought a marked change in the ecological history of the region. A look into the forest policies and forest resources exploitation data show that due to over mining of forest resources in different time periods such natural calamities have occurred.

In 1973 the State Forest Department gave a lease of forest trees to Simon Company, a manufacturer of sporting goods from far off Allahabad (Mishra and Tripathy, 1975) The relationship between the erosion and floods on the one hand, and mass scale falling of trees on the other was recognized. On March 27 decision was taken to ‘Chipko” that is ‘to hug’ the trees that were threatened by axe and thus the chipko andolan (movement) was born. This movement has multifaceted conflicts over forest resources, at the scientific, technical, economic, and, especially, the ecological levels (Shiva, 1986). Major demands of the Chipko movement were not merely to protect timber, fuel, fodder and small slumber but the preservation of soil and water.

Public meetings were held in the region and the felling of trees by the Company was postponed. In initial days villagers were lured by the Company from the forest for other entertainment but later on failed to attract them. In 1974 Sunderlal Bahuguna the “Chipko Messenger” visited the entire region taking the Chipko message from village to village. In subsequent period the local people did not allow any one from cutting trees even for home industries. Thus, one finds a change in the Chipko movement, from economic to ecological. The Chipko movement has been successful in forcing a fifteen year ban on commercial green felling in the hills of Uttar Pradesh and generated pressure for a national forest policy that is ecologically more sensitive. Women were very active and came out of their homes to take lead in the Chipko movement.

Lessons learned

The Chipko movement experimented and established certain original approaches, like marginality, action research and social investigation. Few social workers integrated the Chipko movement for preservation of forest in the sub-Himalayan region of Gharwal. The movement made people conscious of the value of forest, its preservation and the need for maintaining ecological balance. The movement has established the importance of need oriented programmes, indigenous strategies, self-reliance, ecological balance and structural changes that resulted in high degree of peoples participation with the help of appropriate small scale technologies. It was experienced that the Western model of development reflected in the form of large scale infrastructure which have marginalised the women to the level of labour delivering products, the Chipko movement proved that women who produce all subsistence goods can maintain the status quo by retaining the traditional eco-system. They saw that conservation of forest seems to be their only source of living and survival. Chipko movement offered women a platform to realise command over Public power and authority. New ecological concepts were built through this movement that made women to realise these issues which were earlier controlled by their male counterparts. This has resulted in various changes in the gender relations in rural Gharwal region in performing the household and social responsibility. The top down approach long adopted by the State in development of women could not bring much change in the power structure of the rural people. The new concept of ecological challenges became more concerned for the women (Jain, 1984). The experiment could make people believe that participation of women in the development process can be achieved by a mere ideological commitment and a few organisational devices (ibid). Belief in non-violence, cooperation and self-help are the basic axioms of the Sarvodaya Philosophy helped the Chipko movement moving forward. Further, it was a fact that women who were away from the intricacies of public power and political activities genuinely believed in the ideas of cooperation and self-help. The principle like non-violence as a natural and more effective weapon imposed on people as a moral pressure helped considerably to make the Chipko movement a grand success.

The ecological crisis in the Himalayas is not an isolated event. It has its roots in the modern materialistic civilisation which makes men the butcher of Earth (Bahuguna, 1980). Other arguments that forest officials and commercial forestry are merely agents of a development process biased in favour of the urban industrial complex and against local needs. The framings of development schemes by urban centred technocrats have little relevance to the realities of rural India (Bhatt, 1984). Another perspective of the Chipko movement is based on Marxian ideology. It viewed that human nature relationship must not be viewed in isolation from existing relationship of humans.

Chipko still survives and the philosophies of the movement has spread beyond Uttarakhand hills and linked to social activists, humanitarian scientists and people in need in Jammu & Kashmir, Rajsthan, Himachal Pradesh and West Medinipur district of West Bengal, while in Karnataka Chipko has reformulated as Appiko (Hedge, 1994 and Alvares, 1984). The Chipko movement became a psyche of India and the World.

Appiko Movement

Inspired by the Chipko movement the villagers of Western Ghats, in the Uttar Kannada region of Karnataka started Appiko Chalewali movement during September – November, 1983. Here the destruction of forest was caused due to commercial felling of trees for timber extraction. Natural forests of the region were felled by the contractors which resulted in soil erosion and drying up of perennial water resources. In the Saklani village in Sirsi, the forest dwellers were prevented from collecting usufructs like twigs and dried branches and non timber forest products for the purposes of fuelwood, fodder .honey etc.They were denied of their customary rights to these products.

In September 1983, women and youth of the region decided to launch a movement similar to Chipko, in South India. Women and youth from Saklani and surrounding villages walked five miles to a nearby forest and hugged trees there. They forced the fellers and the contractors of the state forest department to stop cutting trees. The people demanded a ban on felling of green trees. The agitation continued for 38 days and this forced the state government to finally concede to their demands and withdrew the order for felling of trees. For some time government stopped felling of trees which was resumed again after some time which resumed the movement again. The movement was backed by the local people. Even the daily wage labourers hired by the contractors to fell tree stopped doing their work.

In October, the movement entered into its second phase and this took place in Bengaon forest Here the forest was of mix tropical semi–evergreen type and mostly on hilly terrain. The inhabitants of the region who were primarily tribal or the indigenous people depended on the forest for their survival and livelihood. Disappearance of bamboo due to commercial felling deprived them of the basic source to make items like baskets, mats, etc. The main source of their income was the sale these items. When felling of trees did not stop people started the movement. The movement was spontaneous in nature. The local indigenous people hugged tree to stop them from cutting and finally the government had to give in to their demands. Similar movements also started in other areas like Husri. It also inspired the local people to launch the movement.

In fact Appiko movement became a symbol of people’s power for their rights of natural resources vis-a-vis the state. In November, the movement spread to Nidgod village in Siddapur taluka preventing the state from commercial felling of trees in this deciduous forest of the region. The Appiko movement was successful in its three fold objectives, i.e., protection of the existing forest cover, regeneration of trees in denuded lands and utilising forest wealth with proper consideration to conservation of natural resources. The movement also created awareness among the villagers throughout the Western Ghats about the ecological danger posed by the commercial and industrial interests to their forest which was the main source of sustenance. Like the Chipko, the Appiko movement revived the Gandhian way of protest and mobilisation for sustainable society in which there is a balance between man and nature.

Narmada Banchao Andolan Gujarat

Narmada is one of the major rivers of Indian Peninsula. The scope of the Sardar Sarovar project a terminal reservoir on Narmada in Gujurat in fact is the main issue in the Narmada Water dispute. The Narmada basin covers 94,500 sq. kilometres between the Bindhya and Stapura ranges in Central India. The 1300 kilometres long Narmada valley contains large alluvial plains in Madhya Pradesh. Narmada River on the west is sacred to the Hindus, widening into a 25 kilometres long estuary as it flows into the Gulf of Cambay. It is one of the World’s largest multipurpose water projects. The Narmada River Development Project involves the construction of 30 large Dams and many small ones on the river and its 51 main tributaries. The project basically aims to increase food production and hydro-power generations in Gujurat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The construction of dams and reservoirs will displace estimated one million people and will submerge 350,000 hectares of forest land and 200,000 hectares of agricultural land (India Today, 1992). The Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujurat is being strongly opposed by the tribal people due to the fact that it will submerge almost 40,000 hectares of land and 250 villages. Similarly, the reservoir behind Narmada Sarovar Dam will be the largest manmade lake in India submerging 91,348 hectares and displacing 120,000 people from 255 villages, which includes 13 forest villages (Shiva, 1991). Of the total affected persons by submergence of around 80% are agriculturists (Doria, 1990). Around 30% amongst to be submerged belongs to SCs and STs and about 75% are marginal farmers or labourers. Over 90 per cent are illiterate and vulnerable to exploitation.

With respect to the funding of the project, the World Bank supported with an approved loans in 1985. For various reasons the Central and State Government could not meet the resettlement and rehabilitation guidelines and social and environmental issues went unaddressed (Kothari and Singh, 1988). Finally, in 1997 the World Bank decided to cease funding the project but the Indian Government pledged to complete it (Miller and Karunar, 1993).

The Narmada Basin extends over an area of 98796 sq. km and is divided into five well defined physiographical zones. The area has a tropical climate with high variations in rainfall, temperature, and humidity. The average annual rainfall in the catchment area is 12.89. The total cultivable command area of the Narmada Sagar Project is 174967 ha. The cropping pattern to be benefited out of the project includes Khariff, Rabi and summer crops. In addition, the project also aims to generate 212 MW power in the initial stage and 147 MW in final stage. The Narmada basin is one of the richest areas of the country for valuable forests and variety of wildlife. The Narmada basin has two world famous national parks like Kanha and Satpura; and five Sanctuaries, Kheoni, Panchamukhi, Bori, Ratapani and Sidhore. Narmada basin also falls on route to several migratory birds flying to South from North.

It was conceived that the massive deforestation due to the project will affect the feeding and breeding of the wild life. The compensatory forestry will not be able to compensate the eco system to the normal situation. Ecological pressure and micro climatic changes caused by deforestation will inevitably threaten the wild life.

Save the Narmada movement began in the 1980s as a struggle for just resettlement and rehabilitation of people being displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Dam, but subsequently the focus was shifted to preserve the environmental integrity and natural eco systems of the valley. The withdrawal of World Bank funding was a moral victory for the movement. Anti-project movement was very high among the residents of basin area in Madhya Pradesh, while in Gujurat dissatisfaction was observed among people whose lands have been encroached without adequate compensation and inequitable compensation by the Government (Appa and Sridharan, 1992). By linking the problems of environmental changes and degradation of the Valley with issues of economic equity and social justice, the movement forced the bank to withdraw from the project (Estana and Prakash, 1992).

Narmada Movement justifies the fact that an environmental movement can go beyond social and cultural cleavages since it touched the human survival. Therefore, this platform unites people above age, sex, religious, ethnicity, caste and class identities. Women became the prominent leaders and participants. The encroachment of rights of people in case of Narmada project was strongly protested by the people who protected their age old livelihood resources.

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