Sunderlal Bahuguna: Chipko Movement


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    One of the founders of Chipko Movement and a well-known environmentalist and Gandhian Sunderlal Bahuguna is no more. 

    His Contributions

    • Sunderlal Bahuguna (1927-2021) firmly accepted Mahatma Gandhi as his main teacher and inspiration. He was a Gandhian and he travelled the length and breadth of India to spread awareness about “Save the Himalayas”.
    • He started “Chipko Movement” in the 1970s to save Himalayan Forests in Henval Ghati region saving forests like those of Advani and Salet which generated a lot of enthusiasm. 
    • He emphasized protection of sustainable livelihoods along with protection of the environment and was involved in anti-liquor movements and Dalit assertion movements which challenged various forms of untouchability. 
    • He contributed to many constructive causes such as the Bhoodan (gift of land) movement.
    • He followed a deeply committed social life and he was honoured with several prestigious awards, including the Padma Vibhushan.

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    Chipko Movement

    • The Chipko movement or Chipko Andolan, was a forest conservation movement in India. It created a precedent for starting non-violent protest in India. 
    • It began in 1973 in Uttarakhand, then a part of Uttar Pradesh (at the foothills of Himalayas) and went on to become a rallying point for many future environmental movements all over the world. 
    • Causes for Movement
    • There was reckless deforestation which denuded much of the forest cover, resulting in the devastating Alaknanda River floods of July 1970. 
    • The incidences of landslides and land subsidence due to rapid increase in civil engineering projects.

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    Significance of Chipko Movement

    • Satyagraha for Environment: It was a movement that practiced methods of Satyagraha where both male and female activists from Uttarakhand played vital roles, including Gaura Devi, Suraksha Devi, Sudesha Devi, Bachni Devi and Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Virushka Devi and others.
    • Inspiration for the World: Sunderlal Bahuguna gave the movement a proper direction and its success meant that the world immediately took notice of this non-violent movement, which was to inspire in time many similar eco-groups by-
      • helping to slow down the rapid deforestation, 
      • expose vested interests, 
      • increase social awareness and the need to save trees, 
      • increase ecological awareness, and 
      • demonstrate the viability of people power. 
    • Participation of Women: The support for the movement came mainly from the womenfolk. Today, beyond the eco-socialism hue, it is being seen increasingly as an ecofeminism movement. Although many of its leaders were men, women were not only its backbone, but also its mainstay.
    • Rise of other movements: In the Western Ghats region, it was an important inspiration for the great Appiko movement for saving forests and it gathered support for similar movements against environmental degradation.

    Other Similar Movements

    • Appiko movement
      • The famous Chipko Andolan of Uttarakhand in the Himalayas inspired the villagers of the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka Province in southern India to launch a similar movement to save their forests. 
      • In September 1983, men, women and children of Salkani “hugged the trees” in Kalase forest. (The local term for “hugging” in Kannada is appiko.) 
      • It gave birth to a new awareness all over southern India.
    • Save Silent Valley 
      • It was a social movement aimed at the protection of Silent Valley, an evergreen tropical forest in the Palakkad district of Kerala, India. 
      • It was started in 1973 by an NGO led by school teachers and the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) to save the Silent Valley from being flooded by a hydroelectric project
    • Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) 
      • Starting in the mid-1980s, it was a social movement spearheaded by native tribes, farmers, environmentalists and human rights activists against a number of large dam projects across the Narmada River.
      • Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat is one of the biggest dams on the river and was one of the first focal points of the movement. 
      • The movement included court actions, hunger strikes, rallies and gathering support from notable  personalities. 
    • Tehri Dam Conflict
      • Environmental activist Sunderlal Bahuguna led the Anti-Tehri Dam movement from 1980s till 2004. 
      • The protest was against the displacement of town inhabitants and environmental consequences of the weak ecosystem.

    Challenges For Activists Advocating Environmental Conservation

    • Resistance from Government: The major challenge for any environmental activist is the attitude of the Government agencies and lack of clarity on their part in implementing the environmental laws. 
    • Increasing Deforestation: It is quite difficult for them to stop the rampant deforestation, which led to a lack of firewood and fodder as well as water for drinking and irrigation.
    • Lacking Mass Support: Being able to find listeners across the political spectrum is a challenge that the present lot of environmentalists have to grapple with.
    • Criminal Prosecutions: Another problem is the criminal prosecution, and many times while doing an agitation, activists get arrested and put behind the bars on the charges of unlawful assembly.

    Way Forward

    • The agriculture and the livelihoods of people are linked to the health of the forests. Therefore, it is important to draw upon support from various groups to protect the environment and to ensure conservation because “Ecology is the permanent economy“. 
    • The ability to cross the ideological barriers in outreach is a crucial requirement for successful environmental movement in the ongoing years. 
    • If someone wants to be an environmentalist as effective and popular as Bahuguna in the current era, one would still need to be rooted and make a difference in the community or region in which he/she is living, not just through impersonal social media.

    Tehri Dam 

    • Opened in 2006
    • The Tehri Dam is the tallest dam in India. 
    • It is a multi-purpose rock and earth-fill embankment dam on the Bhagirathi River near Tehri in Uttarakhand, India.
    • The Tehri Dam withholds a reservoir for irrigation, municipal water supply and the generation of 1,000 megawatts of hydroelectricity. 

    Bhoodan Movement

    • The Bhoodan Movement (Land Gift Movement) also known as the Bloodless Revolution was a voluntary land reform movement in India. 
    • It was initiated by Gandhian Acharya Vinoba Bhave in 1951 at Pochampally village, which is now in Telangana, and known as Bhoodan Pochampally. 
    • It attempted to persuade wealthy landowners to voluntarily give a percentage of their land to landless people
    • Philosophically, Bhave was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s Sarvodaya movement and Gram Swarajya.

    Bishnoi of Rajasthan 

    • They may be considered as India’s first environmentalists
    • The famous ‘Chipko Movement’ was inspired by the true story of Amrita Devi Bishnoi, who refused to let the king’s men cut trees in her village. 
    • Her head was severed. More than 300 people who did the same were killed for trying to protect the trees.

    Source: TH