Chipko Movement - Sunderlal Bahuguna

The Chipko Movement was initiated by Sunderlal Bahuguna in 1973. It was a conservation movement, an uprising against the felling of trees and maintaining ecological balance. 

This article will provide information about the Chipko Movement in the context of the IAS Exam.

This is useful for the environment section of the UPSC Syllabus.

The environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna has been in the news recently, therefore the chipko movement and related facts hold relevance for the current affairs section of various examinations.

Why in the News?

  1. Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi Chief Minister, demanded the country’s highest Civilian Awards, Bharat Ratna Award to be given to the environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna posthumously. 
  2. The Chipko Movement pioneer Sunderlal Bahuguna died at the age of 94 on May 21, 2021, after battling COVID-19 for several days. 

Environmental conservation is often debated, and therefore the Chipko Movement is an important topic under ‘Environmental Conservation Movements of India.’ Also, questions on Chipko Movement and Sunderlal Bahuguna form a part of GS Paper 2 and GS Paper 3 of the IAS exam

Aspirants can check their preparation by attempting the UPSC Previous Years Question Papers now!!

To complement your preparation for the upcoming exam, check the following links:

Chipko Movement 

Chipko Movement Facts

  1. The Chipko movement, also called Chipko Andolan or ‘hug the tree movement’ was started by Bahuguna at the foothills of the Himalayas in 1973. 
  2. It was a non-violent social and ecological movement by rural villagers, particularly women, in India.
  3. Chipko Andolan is best remembered for the collective mobilization of women for the cause of preserving forests, and the change in attitude regarding the status of self in society.
  4. The non-violent agitation of the movement originated in Uttar Pradesh’s Chamoli district (now Uttarakhand) and quickly spread throughout the Indian Himalayas.
  5. The main objective of the Chipko Andolan was to protect the trees on the Himalayan slopes from the axes of contractors of the forest.
  6. It aimed at resisting the mass deforestation using Gandhian ways of Non-violent resistance and satyagraha through the act of hugging the trees to guard them against being cut down for commercial purposes.
  7. The Hindi word ‘chipko’ means “to hug ” or “to embrace” wherein the villagers hugged the trees and encircled them to prevent being hacked. It reflects the demonstrators’ primary tactic of embracing trees to impede loggers.
  8. The movement led to a ban on commercial felling of trees above 30 degrees slope and above 1,000 MSL (mean sea level) in 1981.
  9. The biggest victory of the Andolan was
    • People became aware of their rights to forests
    • How grassroots activism can influence policy-making regarding ecology and shared natural resources.
  10. Though the protests of the Chipko movement were largely autonomous and decentralized, it emerged as a peasant and women’s movement for forest rights. 
  11. The Chipko movement is essentially called a women’s movement. The movement appealed to women because women suffered the most due to floods and landslides, which were caused due to a rise in deforestation in the face of urbanization. Chipko Andolan stands out as an eco-feminist movement.

The candidates can refer to the below-mentioned links to read about other popular environmental movements of India:

Chipko Andolan – Background

  1. Chandi Prasad Bhatt, the environmentalist and Gandhian social activist, In 1964 founded a cooperative organization, Dasholi Gram Swarajya Sangh, later renamed Dasholi Gram Swarajya Mandal (DGSM). 
  2. DSGM encouraged the development of small industries for rural villagers, using local resources. 
  3. The Mandal became the force of opposition against the large-scale industry when industrial logging was linked to the severe monsoon floods that killed more than 200 people in the region.
  4. The government denied the villagers access to the small number of trees they needed to make agricultural tools and allotted an even bigger plot to a sports good manufacturing company.
  5. This outraged the villagers and then the first Chipko Movement started in the upper Alaknanda Valley in 1973.
  6. On hearing the denial of the villagers’ appeal by the government, Chandi Prasad Bhatt led the masses in the forest and embraced the trees to prevent logging.
  7. The government, after many days of protest, cancelled the company’s logging permit and granted the original allotment requested by DGSM. 
  8. The landmark event of the protest happened in March 1973 where peasant women in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand reclaimed their forest rights from the State Forest Department and prevented the trees from being cut down. Read about the Forest Right Act, India (FRA), 2006 on the given link. 
  9. With the success, a local environmentalist, Sunderlal Bahuguna, spread the Chipko’s tactics with people in other villages throughout the region.
  10. Another instance of Chipko Andolan occurred in the village of Reni in 1974, where more than 2000 trees were planned to be cut.
  11. From the surrounding villages of a nearby city, the government summoned the men for compensation, ostensibly to allow the loggers to proceed without confrontation.
  12. They met the group of village women, led by Gaura Devi, who refused to move out of the forest and eventually the loggers were forced to withdraw. 
  13. The action in Reni village ultimately led to a 10-year ban on commercial logging in the area.
  14. The movement was grounded in Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha (resistance without violence).
  15. Between 1972 and 1979, it is believed that more than 150 villages were involved with the Chipko movement, which resulted in 12 major protests and many minor confrontations in Uttarakhand.
  16. In 1980, when Sunderlal Bahuguna’s appeal to Indira Gandhi (then Prime Minister) led to 15 years ban on commercial felling of trees in the Uttarakhand Himalayas. This is when the Chipko Movement became a great success. 

Demands of Chipko Movement

The demands of the Chipko Movement are as follows:

  • Complete stoppage of cutting trees for commercial purposes. 
  • The traditional rights should be recognised on the basis of the minimum needs of the people. 
  • Making the arid forest green by increasing people’s participation in tree cultivation. 
  • Formation of village committees to manage forests. 
  • Development of the forest-related home-based industries and making available the raw materials, money and technique for it. 
  • Giving priority to afforestation in the light of local conditions, requirements and varieties.

Sunderlal Bahuguna

  1. Sunderlal Bahuguna, born in 1927 firmly accepted Mahatma Gandhi as his main teacher and inspiration. His methods were Gandhian, making use of peaceful resistance and non-violence.
  2. To guard the trees on the Himalayan slopes, Bahuguna guided the chipko movement.
  3. Bahuguna was the best-known environmentalist who made the Chipko movement the movement of the masses.
  4. He spread the message across the globe that ecology and ecosystem are important and ecology and economy should go hand in hand. Thus, he is also known to coin the slogan for Chipko Andolan ‘ecology is a permanent economy’.
  5. Between 1981 and 1983, he took 4,800 km Kashmir to Kohima padayatra (foot march) and brought attention to the Himalayan region ending with a meeting with late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and brought the Chipko movement to prominence. 
  6. Sundarlal Bahuguna worked for women’s rights and the rights of the poor. He was also a leader in the movement to oppose the Tehri dam project and in defending India’s rivers.
  7. Other movements supported by Bahuguna –
    • Anti-liquor movement – Women-led movements against the liquor mafia in the hills, 
    • A movement to save Himalayan agricultural biodiversity from being wiped out by the unsustainable, chemical-intensive Green Revolution, and
    • The Beej Bachao Andolan
    • Dalit assertion movements that challenged untouchability
  8. He also contributed to many constructive causes, such as the Bhoodan (gift of land) movement.
  9. Sunderlal Bahuguna was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2009. Check out the Difference Between Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan on the linked page. 

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Impact of Chipko Movement

  1. The protest of the movement became more project-oriented. It expanded to include the entire ecology of the region, ultimately becoming the “Save Himalaya” movement.
  2. A massive reforestation effort led to the planting of more than one million trees in the region.
  3. In response to the lifting of the logging ban in the Himalayan region, the protest resumed in 2004 but was unsuccessful in its reenactment.
  4. The movement later also inspired the “Appiko Chaluvali” or the “Appiko Movement”, which is the Southern Indian version of the “Chipko Movement”.
  5. The green-felling ban was also extended to forests in the Western Ghats and the Vindhyas.

Significance of Chipko Andolan

  1. It was a movement that practised methods of Satyagraha where both male and female activists from Uttarakhand played vital roles.
  2. The movement grabbed attention from across the world.
  3. It led in the proper direction and inspired in time many similar eco-groups by-
    • increasing social awareness and ecological awareness
    • the need to save trees and slow down the rapid deforestation, 
    • exposing vested interests, 
    • demonstrating the viability of people power. 
  4. Inspired similar movements against environmental degradation.
  5. Though many of the leaders of the movement were men, women were the mainstay and backbone of the movement. It has been an ecofeminism movement.

Success of Chipko Movement

  • 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. 

Three important aspects were responsible for the success of the Chipko movement. They include:

  1. The close links between the livelihoods of the local people and the nature of the movement.
  2. The nature of agitation. Unlike other environmental movements, Chipko has strictly adhered to the Gandhian tradition of freedom struggle, i.e., non-violence.
  3. The simplicity and sincerity of the leaders like Sunderlal Bahuguna and their access to national leaders like Mrs Indira Gandhi, other politicians and officials also helped to the success of the movement to a large extent.

To read more about all the powerful Environmental Movements in India in brief, check the linked article. 

Aspirants must go through the relevant related links provided below to assist their preparation for the upcoming UPSC Prelims and Mains examination –

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