The Chipko movement or Chipko Andolan began in the 1970s in Uttarakhand, then a part of Uttar Pradesh, It is a non-violent resistance triggered in response to the increasing destruction of forests for commerce and industry. The Chipko protests 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.
- Sunderlal Bahuguna was a life-long environmentalist and was credited for founding the Chipko movement – the grassroots movement that swept through the Garhwal region in the 1970s with villagers hugging trees to stop them from being axed.
- Later in 1990s, he spearheaded the Anti-Tehri Dam movement and even went to jail for it in 1995.
- The Chipko movement was a Gandhian form of protest against deforestation by locals in the Himalayan region.
- To stop deforestation, locals – primarily women – would make circles around trees and stop men from cutting them down.
- With the help from a local NGO, the women of the area went into the forest and formed a circle around the trees, protecting them from the men who came to cut down the trees.
- The women kept an all-night vigil, guarding their trees until all of them left. By then, the news of this movement had spread to nearby villages and more people joined in.
- The success achieved by this protest led to similar protests in other parts of the country.
- Sunderlal Bahuguna, who was leading the movement, appealed to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to implement a ban on cutting down the trees. His appeal resulted in a 15-year ban on chopping green trees in 1980.
The movement went beyond hugging trees
- The first Chipko action took place in April 1973 in Mandal village, now in Uttarakhand, and spread over the next five years to many Himalayan districts.
- The movement sparked after the government decided to allot a plot of forest area in the Alaknanda valley to a sports goods company.
- In 1974, the forest department marked trees for felling in the Peng Murenda forest, near Reni village in Joshimath block, badly affected by the massive Alaknanda flood of 1970.
- More than 680 ha were auctioned for Rs 4.7 lakh to Jagmohan Bhalla, a contractor from Rishikesh.
- But the women of Reni women drove out the contractor’s labourers on March 26, 1974.
- This was a turning point for Chipko, as it marked the first time that the initiative by women, especially when their menfolk were not around.
- The Reni incident also prompted the state government to set up a nine-member committee, chaired by Delhi botanist Virendra Kumar and whose members included government officials; local MLA, Govind Singh Negi of the Communist Party of India (CPI); Bhatt, and Govind Singh Rawat, the block pramukh of Joshimath.
- The committee’s report, submitted after two years, led to a 10-year ban on commercial forestry in Reni and in nearly 1,200 sq km of the upper catchment of the Alaknanda. The ban was extended for 10 years in 1985.
- The transformation of Chipko from a struggle to control local resource use to a national movement was influenced heavily by a growing global environmental concern.
- Chipko began independent of global environmental consciousness, but in interacting with the rest of the world, Chipko assumed a deep conservationist bearing.
- In the process, its utilitarian and developmental stance was steadily eroded.