Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Environmental Movements in India

In the year 1471 A.D., there was a severe drought in a village called Pipasar of Rajasthan. The drought lasted for three years. Every bit of grass and plants were chopped to feed the animals. Children starved, cattle were dying and there was not a drop of water. People left their homes to search for water. At that time, there was a man called 'Jambeshwar' who was acutely pained at the tragedy but wisely learnt a lesson. He noticed that, unlike in the past, the land was not able to withstand the destruction from the drought as a large number of trees had been felled. If life was to survive, people must understand the value of environment. He preached that the way in which we lived should be in harmony with nature and not against it. He came to be known as Guru Maharaj Jambaji. Jambaji put down his thoughts into 29 principles which are followed by his disciples who are known as Bishnois (20+9) or twentyniners. According to the religion preached by Jambaji, there was strict ban on:-
- Killing of any animals or bird;
- Felling of a green tree.
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. This helped to make villages greener and restore the natural ecosystems. Vegetation naturally helped to recharge the ground water.
About 300 years after this religion was founded, 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. The Bishnois tried to reason with them and stop them but in vain. But true of their religion, the Bishnois hugged the trees to protect them. The soldiers attacked them to overcome the protest and 363 Bishnois were killed. When the king heard of this massacre and the unique religion, he was overcome by people's devotion. He ordered his men to withdraw, gave the religion state sanction and ensured that the wishes of Bishnois were respected in future.
Even today, after many generations, Bishnois continue to protect the trees and animals. One can spot a Bishnoi village easily as being more green and abundant in wildlife. The population of Black Buck, which is in the list of endangered species, is found to be in greater number in Bishnoi villages than outside.
In today's environment, when many places are facing acute shortage of water and pollution of air, land and water, we need to take a lesson from Bishnois. Conservation is a religion every human being should adopt.
In the 1970s, an organized resistance to the destruction of forests spread throughout India and came to be known as the Chipko movement. The name of the movement comes from the word 'embrace', as the villagers hugged the trees, and prevented the contractors' from felling them. 
Not many people know that over the last few centuries many communities in India have helped save nature. One such is the Bishnoi community of Rajasthan. The original 'Chipko movement' was started around 260 years back in the early part of the 18thcentury in Rajasthan by this community. 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. After this incident, themaharaja gave a strong royal decree preventing the cutting of trees in all Bishnoi villages. 
In the 20th century, it began in the hills where the forests are the main source of livelihood, since agricultural activities cannot be carried out easily. The Chipko movement of 1973 was one of the most famous among these. The first Chipko action took place spontaneously in April 1973 in the village of Mandal in the upper Alakananda valley and over the next five years spread to many districts of the Himalayas in Uttar Pradesh. 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. This angered the villagers because their similar demand to use wood for making agricultural tools had been earlier denied. With encouragement from a local NGO (non-governmental organization), DGSS (Dasoli Gram Swarajya Sangh), the women of the area, under the leadership of an activist, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, went into the forest and formed a circle around the trees preventing the men from cutting them down. 
The success achieved by this protest led to similar protests in other parts of the country. From their origins as a spontaneous protest against logging abuses in Uttar Pradesh in the Himalayas, supporters of the Chipko movement, mainly village women, have successfully banned the felling of trees in a number of regions and influenced natural resource policy in India. Dhoom Singh Negi, Bachni Devi and many other village women, were the first to save trees by hugging them. They coined the slogan: 'What do the forests bear? Soil, water and pure air'. The success of the Chipko movement in the hills saved thousands of trees from being felled. 
Some other persons have also been involved in this movement and have given it proper direction. Mr Sunderlal Bahuguna, a Gandhian activist and philosopher, whose appeal to Mrs Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, resulted in the green-felling ban. Mr Bahuguna coined the Chipko slogan: 'ecology is permanent economy'. Mr Chandi Prasad Bhatt, is another leader of the Chipko movement. He encouraged the development of local industries based on the conservation and sustainable use of forest wealth for local benefit. Mr Ghanasyam Raturi, the Chipko poet, whose songs echo throughout the Himalayas of Uttar Pradesh, wrote a poem describing the method of embracing the trees to save them from felling: 
' Embrace the trees and
Save them from being felled;
The property of our hills,
Save them from being looted.'

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 then Prime Minister of India. Since then, the movement has spread to many states in the country. In addition to the 15-year ban in Uttar Pradesh, 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 Bachao Andolan is the most powerful mass movement, started in 1985, against the construction of huge dam on theNarmada river. Narmada is the India's largest west flowing river, 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. The proposed Sardar Sarovar Dam and Narmada Sagar will displace more than 250,000 people. The big fight is over the resettlement or the rehabilitation of these people. The two proposals are already under construction, supported by US$550 million loan by the world bank. There are plans to build over 3000 big and small dams along the river.

It is a multi crore project that will generate a big revenue for the government. The Narmada Valley Development plan is the the most promised and most challenging plan in the history of India. The proponents are of the view that it will produce 1450 MW of electricity and pure drinking water to 40 million people covering thousand of villages and towns. Some of the dams have been already been completed such as Tawa and Bargi Dams. But the opponents says that this hydro project will devastate human lives and bio diversity by destroying thousand of acres of forests and agricultural land. On the other hand it will overall deprive thousands of people of their livelihood. They believe that the water and energy could be provided to the people through alternative technological means, that would be ecologically beneficial.

Led by one of the prominent leader Medha Patkar, it has now been turned into the International protest, gaining support from NGO'S all around the globe. Protestors are agitating the issue through the mass media, hunger strikes, massive marches, rallies and the through the on screen of several documentary films. Although they have been protesting peacefully, but they been harassed, arrested and beaten up by the police several times. The Narmada Bachao Andolan has been pressurizing the world bank to withdraw its loan from the project through media.

The strong protests through out the country not only made impact on the local people but has also influenced the several famous celebrities like film star Aamir Khan , who has made open efforts to support Narmada Bachao Andolan. He said he only want that those who have been rendered homeless should be given a roof. He pleaded to the common people to take part in the moment and come up with the best possible solutions. 
Save Silent Valley 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 to save the Silent Valley Reserve Forest in from being flooded by ahydroelectric project. The valley was declared as Silent Valley National Park in 1985.
Kuntipuzha one of the major rivers takes its origin in the flush green forests of Silent valley. In 1928 the location at Sairandhri on the Kunthipuzha River was identified as an ideal site for electricity generation. 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. 17 Crore was later proposed by the Kerala State Electricity Board.
The Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) decided to implement the Silent Valley Hydro-Electric Project (SVHEP) centered on a dam across the Kunthipuzha River in 1973. The resulting reservoir would have flood 8.3 km² of virgin rainforest. 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. A shortage of funds delayed activity. Even then from 1974 to 1975 a very large number of trees were felled in the area.KSEB announced its plan to begin dam construction in 1973
After the announcement of imminent dam construction the valley became the focal point of "Save Silent Valley", India's fiercestenvironmental debate of the decade. Because of concern about the endangered lion-tailed macaque, the issue was brought to public attention. Romulus Whitaker, founder of the Madras Snake Park and the Madras Crocodile Bank, was probably the first person to draw public attention to the small and remote area. 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.
In 1978 Smt. Indira Gandhi, the Honorable Prime Minister of India, approved the project, with the condition that the State Government enact Legislation ensuring the necessary safeguards. Also that year the IUCN (Ashkhabad, USSR, 1978) passed aresolution recommending protection of Lion-tailed Macaques in Silent Valley and Kalakkad and the controversy heated up. 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.
Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishath (KSSP) effectively aroused public opinion on the requirement to save Silent Valley. They also published a Techno-economic and Socio-Political assessment report on the Silent Valley Hydroelectric project. The poet
Sugathakumari 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. Dr. Salim Ali, eminent ornithologist of the Bombay Natural History Society, visited the Valley and appealed for cancellation of the Hydroelectric Project.A petition of writ was filed before the High Court of Kerala, against the clear cutting of forests in the Hydroelectric Project area and the court ordered a stop to the clear cutting.
Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, the renowned Agricultural Scientist, and then Secretary to the Department of Agriculture, called at the Silent Valley region and his suggestion was 389.52 km² including the Silent Valley (89.52 km²), New Amarambalam (80 km²),Attappadi (120 km²) in Kerala and Kunda in Tamilnadu (100 km²) reserve forests, should be made into a National RainforestBiosphere Reserve, with the aim of "preventing erosion of valuable genes from the area". to Dr. M. S. Swaminathan speaking on Sustainable Development, p.83, August 27, 2002
In January 1980 the Hon. High Court of Kerala lifted the ban on clear cutting, but then the Hon. Prime Minister of India requested the Government of Kerala to stop further works in the project area until all aspects were fully discussed. In December, the Government of Kelala declared the Silent Valley area, excluding the Hydroelectric Project area, as a National Park.
In 1982 a multidisciplinary committee with Prof. M. G. K. Menon as chairman, was created to decide if the Hydroelectric Project was feasible without any significant ecological damage. Early in 1983, Prof. Menon's Committee submitted its report. After a careful study of the Menon report, the Hon. Prime Minister of India decided to abandon the Project. On October 31, 1984 Indira Gandhi was assassinated and on November 15 the Silent Valley forests were declared as a National Park, though the boundaries of the Silent Valley Park were limited and no buffer zone was created, despite recommendations by expert committees and scientists.
A New Dam proposal
In 2001 a new Hydro project was proposed and the "Man vs. Monkey debate" was revived. The proposed site of the dam (64.5 m high and 275 m long) is just 3.5 km downstream of the old dam site at Sairandhiri, 500 m outside the National Park boundary. The 84 km² catchment of the project area included 79 km² of the Silent Valley National Park.
The Kerala Minister for Electricity called The Pathrakkadavu dam (PHEP) an "eco-friendly alternative" to the old Silent Valley project. The PHEP was designed as a run-off-the-river project with an installed capacity of 70 MW in the first phase (105 MW eventually) and an energy generation of 214 million units (Mu) with a minimal gross storage of 0.872 million cubic metres. The claim was that the submergence area of the PHEP would be a negligible .041 km² compared to 8.30 km² submergence of the 1970s (SVHEP). However, The spectacular waterfall between the Neelikkal and Pathrakkadavu hills bordering the Silent Valley will disappear if the proposed Pathrakkadavu hydro-electric project is implemented.
During January to May 2003 a rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was carried out during by the Thiruvananthapuram-based Environmental Resources Research Centre and its report was released in December, stating that forest lost due to the project would be just .2216 km², not including the 7.4 km approach road and land to be acquired for the powerhouse in Karapadam.

    The Government of India decided to setup a missile testing range at Baliyapal in Orissa. Baliyapal become a centre of controversy because the area to be taken for the testing range area a very fertile area with thick population. The Government could not implement its decision because of the strong resistance of the people.

"It is a new experience for us that water becomes a market commodity .It is alien to ourhabits. To sell bottled water is unjust and anti- nature."
Veloor Swaminathan states the rationale of the struggle in these simple statements.Thestruggle against the multi-national Coca-Cola factory at Plachimada of Perumatty Panchayat in Chittoor Taluk of Palakkad district, Kerala has shown unique consistency and perseverance for the last two years. It has attracted considerable amount of international media attention and thus being projected as a symbolic model of resistance against multi-national colonization. As a result, similar struggles against Coca-Cola and the exploitation of scarce groundwater resources for its sake, is gaining momentum in Sivaganga in Tamilnadu and in Orissa. All these struggles have to be viewed in a perspective that would unveil the ruthless exploitative face of globalization and its agents, the multi-national giants. Rugmini (46), a resident of Plachimada colony, says that she does not experience any water scarcity before the company started functioning. 

"We live here for the last 20 years. Before two years we need not have to go out to fetch water. But today we walk a distance of two and a half kilometers to collect two pots of water. The Panchayath who is supposed to serve the people dose not take any action to resolve this problem".

They for more than one and a half years are agitating against the human rights violation of the factory. People representing the five most affected colonies adjacent to the factory, who belong to Eravala, Malasar tribal communities and other scheduled cast communities have been holding demonstrations and sit-in strike in front the factory for the last one and a half years .On April 22nd 2002,around2000 men, women and children dwelling around the Hindustan Coca-
Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd at Plachimada, picketed the factory and gave an ultimatum to the authorities to quit immediately. The Adivasi Gotrasabha leader Ms. C.K.Janu inaugurated the overwhelming function. The police arrested all the people participated in the function. Blockades, Dharna and Picketing were all resorted to during this continuous protest against
the wrongs of the mighty by the poor and the weak.
The police accusing them of raising slogans against the multinational company, blocking the workers from entering the factory and indulging in anti-social activities, registered several cases against these poor people and their leaders. The company filed a case (OP No.11598) in the High Court demanding police protection from these 'anti- social elements'. The accused were Vilayodi Venugopal (Chairman,Adivasi Protection Council),Veloor Swaminathan(Convenor, Action Council) Subrahmanyan, Murukesan, Kochikkadu Mani,and Pazhaniswmi. But the High Court accepted a counter petition in file submitted by the Action Council explaining that they were waging a very just protest and it was their legitimate right to demonstrate in a peaceful and democratic manner. The MNC was clever enough to influence the media not to give coverage to the struggle. Obviously the news papers except a few cannot go against the interests of the MNCs like the HCC. Political parties, irrespective of their ideologies for or against globalization and WTO, have wooed their best to protect the interests of the factory depriving the basic rights and physical existence of those who elected them to power. As the days went by the national media just cannot but to give due coverage as the struggle was gaining momentum and international media attention Cases were registered one after another but it didn't affect the morale or political will of the people whatever be the financial burden it rendered.The giant factory that can literally dictate terms to political rulers, law enforcement agencies, civil servants etc., used its money power and muscle power to silence the people and it has been partly successful so much so that the police department, despite the fact that the petition by the factory for Police protection was dismissed by the high court of Kerala, has mis-informed the people that the factory has been granted police protection by the high court. There is heavy deployment of
police at the gate of the factory threatening the poor people of dire consequences if any attempt is made against the smooth functioning of the factor.