Important Environmental Movements in India

Important Environmental Movements in India


In recent times, India along with whole world faced extensive exploitation of natural resources in the pursuit of development and more and more economic activities. Though economy has grown but it has disrupted the balance of nature. Sometime, these efforts to destroy and exploit the natural resources had faced the wrath of local inhabitants, who earn a living from the native environment, and environmentalists. This has led to conflicts of various magnitudes, referred as 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 environmental movements favour the sustainable management of natural resources and argues for protection of the environment and changes in public policy. These movements are focused mostly on environment, health and human rights.

Some of the major Environmental Movements in India are discussed below

1.Bishnoi Movement

In Marwar region of Rajasthan, Amrita Devi, a female villager could not bear to witness the destruction of both her faith and the village’s sacred treesby the king’s soldiers for construction of a new palace. They 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.


2. Chipko Movement

In 1973, in Chamoli district and Tehri-Garhwal district of Uttarakhand,to protect the trees on the Himalayan slopes from the forest contractors, Sundarlal 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 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.

Other prominent leaders of the movement were Gaura Devi, Sudesha Devi, Bachni Devi, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Govind Singh Rawat, Dhoom Singh Negi, Shamsher Singh Bisht and Ghanasyam Raturi.


3. Save Silent Valley Movement

The Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) proposed a hydroelectric dam across the Kunthipuzha River that runs through Silent Valley, in the Palakkad district of Kerala. In February 1973, the Planning Commission approved the project at a cost of about Rs 25 crores. The project would possibly have submerged 8.3 sq km of untouched moist evergreen forest. Several NGOs, including The Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) and the poet-activist Sughathakumari,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

In  the early 1980s, 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”. This movement also spreaded to Jharkhand and Orissa.


5. Appiko Movement

Appiko movement is the southern version of the Chipko movement, which occurred in Uttara Kannada and Shimoga districts of Karnataka, in the year 1989. 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.Pandurang Hegde helped launch the movement in 1983.


6. Narmada Bachao Andholan

The Narmada Bachao Andholan (NBA) started in 1985 as a protest for not providing proper rehabilitation and resettlement for the people who have been displaced by the construction of Sardar Sarovar Dam on Narmada River. Later 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. Because of the environmental protest, the World Bank withdrew from the project.

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. 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.

Medha Patker was the most prominent leader along with adivasis, farmers, environmentalists activists.


7. Tehri Dam Issue

In 1990’s the movementarise around the construction of Tehri dam over Bhagirathi River near Tehri in Uttarakhand.  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.

Sundarlal Bahuguna was the most prominent leader in the movement.


8. Jadav Payeng’s Affrostation

Almost three decades ago, in 1979 Jadav Payeng started planting Bamboo in an area that had been washed away by floods. Today, that same land hosts 1,360 acres of Jungle called Molai Forest, named after Jadav “Molai” Payeng.That forest is now home to Bengal tigers, Indian rhinoceros, over 100 deer and rabbits besides apes and several varieties of birds, including a large number of vultures. There are several thousand trees. Bamboo covers an area of over 300 hectares. A herd of around 100 elephants regularly visits the forest every year and generally stays for around six months.

Payeng belongs to “Mishing” tribe in Assam. In 2012, India’s premier educational institution, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) named him the ‘Forest Man of India’. Later that year, the then President APJ Abdul Kalam felicitated him with a cash award in Mumbai. The same year, he was among the 900 experts who gathered at the seventh global conference of the International Forum for Sustainable Development at Evian in France. Sanctuary Asia bestowed on him the Wildlife Service Award. This year, he received the Padma Shri.