Modern India- Environment Movement in Independent India


A large number of environmental movements have emerged in India especially after 1970s. These movements have grown out of a series of independent responses to local issues in different places at different times.

Major reasons of the emergence of environmental movements in India include reasons such as

  1. control over natural resources,
  2. misguided developmental policies of the government,
  3. Socioeconomic reasons,
  4. Environmental degradation/ destruction and,
  5. Spread of environmental awareness and media.

The environmental movements have emerged from the Himalayan regions of Uttar Pradesh to the tropical forests of Kerala and from Gujarat to Tripura.



  • Bishnoi Movement (1730):
    • This movement was led by Amrita Devi in which around 363 people sacrificed their lives for the protection of their forests.
    • This movement was the first of its kind to have developed the strategy of hugging or embracing the trees for their protection spontaneously.
  • The Chipko Movement:
    • The Chipko movement got its name from the actions of women in Uttarakhand in 1970s who hugged trees in order to prevent them from being cut down by timber contractors.
      • Chipko, meaning “hugging”, is used to describe the movement because local village women literally “hugged” trees, interposing their bodies between the trees and the loggers to prevent their being cut down.
      • The Chipko Movement was an ecological movement, concerned with the preservation of forests and thereby with the maintenance of the traditional ecological balance in the sub-Himalayan region, where hill people have traditionally enjoyed a positive relationship with their environment.
      • The movement held an important place in the history of India for being the one of the first and primary movements on environmental concern which was later imitated in many other regions of the country.
    • The Chipko movement focused world attention on the environmental problems of the Alaknanda catchment area in the mid Western Himalayas.


    • 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 villagers hugged or embraced or stuck to the trees in the forest to prevent them from being felled by the contractors.
    • Both female and male activists did play pivotal roles in the movement including Gaura Devi, Sudesha Devi, Bachni Devi, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Sundarlal Bahuguna, Govind Singh Rawat, Dhoom Singh Neji, Shamsher Singh Bisht and GhanasyamRaturi, the Chipko poet.
    • There was women participation.
      • The local inhabitants especially women took a lead and stood before the giant timber mafia to prevent them from cutting down the trees. It is true that many of the pioneers were men like Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sundar Lal Bhauguna , but the women formed the backbone of the surge like Gaura Devi, Sudesha Devi, Bachni Devi,
      • The slow degradation of the hilly region, and the fall out of water shortage, of landsides, of lack of fodder and firewood – affected the women directly, being solely in charge of cultivation, livestock and children. They would be the first ones to bear the brunt of an environmental disaster waiting to happen. They believed in the traditional equilibrium and relationship of humans and forests which is to be nurtured.
      • So, by cutting the trees, women were mostly affected. It would have resulted into them going far to collect the fuel, food, fodder and water. They were able to perceive the link between their victimization and the denuding of mountain slopes by commercial interests. Thus, sheer survival made women support the movement.
      • With constant pressure and the movement gathering momentum the then Prime Minister banned tree-felling in the region for 15 years.
      • Adopting these radical but peaceful methods, the women had taken up leadership positions, forced themselves into decision making situations, in a heavily patriarchal society. Over a period of time the women became aware of their potential as soldiers of the movement and went on to enhance their roles.
  • Narmada BachaoAndolan:
    • It is the movement against the Narmada River Valley Project. (main person involved: Medha Patekar)
    • Narmada BachaoAndolan has drawn upon a multiplicity of discourses for protests such as: “displacement risks and resettlement provisions; environmental impact and sustainability issues; financial implications of the project; forceful evictions and violations of civil liberties; issues pertaining to river valley planning and management; implications of Western growth model, and alternative development and appropriate technology among many other.



  • Appiko Movement:
    • Appiko Movement is one of the forest-based environmental movements in India. The movement took place in the Uttara Kanada district of Karnataka in the Western Ghats.
    • Appiko movement succeeded in its three-fold objectives include
      • protecting the existing forest cover,
      • regeneration of trees in denuded land, and
      • utilizing forest wealth with proper consideration to conservation of natural resources.
    • The Appiko movement saved the basic life sources for the people- trees like bamboo useful for making handcrafted items which they could sell for earning a few rupees. It also saved medicinal trees for their use by the local people.
    • The movement 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.
  • Silent Valley Movement:
    • The central issue of the Silent Valley protests included: The protection of the tropical rain forest, maintenance of the ecological balance against the hydroelectric project which was coming up.
    • The protest was against the destruction of forest, an opposition to ecologically unsustainable development, and above all, maintenance of the ecological balance.
    • The campaigns and petitions were the main strategies adopted by the activists in the movement, basing it on the non-violent, Gandhian ideological orientation.
  • Tehri Dam Conflict:
    • One of the most protracted environmental movements in the recent years is the movement against the Tehri Dam.
    • The 260.5 meter high Tehri Dam on the Bhagirathi in the Garhwal-Himalayas was opposed the local people.



  • The various environment shows that mainly their nature have been peaceful protest, mass based, against environmental degradation, like by hugging trees in Chipko movement or Gandhian approach of Satyagraha.
  • Matter for livelihood and survival rather than luxury (unlike western country).
  • Sometimes leaders from outside (like MedhaPatekar)
  • Use of constitutional means (like petition to court: by Narmada BachaoAdolan, Silent Valley).
  • The most significant feature of environmental movements in India is that, there is involvement of local voluntary organizations or Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in these movements.
    • For example: The Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), an NGO, was working for three decades among masses of Kerala for growing environmental awareness. This voluntary organization was working with people in popularizing science and appropriate technology and in campaigning against the environmentally destructive development projects.
  • These environmental movements are an expression of the socio-ecological effects of narrowly conceived development based on short-term criteria of exploitation.
  • Environment movements saw active women participation. Environment movements like the Chipko gave to the understanding that environment issues are often women’s issues because they suffer most from its deterioration.
    • The reasons of women participation lies in the contemporary Indian society and dependence of the women upon the trees.
      • The society necessitated women to arrange firewood, fodder and water etc. The women hence were quite dependent upon the trees for fulfilling their functions.
      • It were the trees which provided the necessary fuel and fodder directly apart from providing them food as well.
      • The water requirements were met through nearby ponds or rivers which were mostly clean due to the trees as trees stopped soil erosion and hence silting of rivers, ponds and lake etc.
  • These movements though localized and were result of some immediate grievances but had wide national appeal (but could not channelised in a nationwide movement. Each movement started out, achieved its aim and fissled out).
  • They brought the concern of sustainable development to the fore. As a consequence of which major legislations were passed like
    • Environment Protection Act (1986),
    • Wild Life Protection Act (1972),
    • Forest Conservation Act (1980) and
    • water and air pollution acts were passed.
    • In 1974 Central Pollution Control Board and their state counterparts were constituted.
    • India is a signatory of many protocols like:
      • Cartagena protocol,
      • Nagoya protocol,
      • Montreal protocol and
      • Kigali protocol etc.
  • Protection and improvement of environment (Article 48) is one among many such directives to be followed by the state under Part IV of the Constitution.
  • Right to safe environment has been included as a part of right to life under Article 21. Clean India campaign has proved a landmark in govt efforts towards environment protection.


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