by Amanda Suutari
This was a defining moment in India's environmental movement, and a modern application of the Ghandian principle of satyagraha, or nonviolent resistance, which has characterized many later Indian grassroots movements including, for example, protests over the damming of the Narmada River. It has also launched the careers of high profile Indian environmental activists including Vandana Shiva.
While forests are critical for subsistence (food, fuel, fodder, medicinals, materials) to rural communities everywhere, they are especially so to villagers of mountainous regions like the Himalayas, as forests provide valuable stabilizing services to the soil and water. (One of the slogans of the Chipko movement was in fact: "What do forests bear?/Soil, water and pure air.")
In Uttar Pradesh State, where the Himalayas border Tibet, over the years, the state forestry department had been claiming forested land and leasing it off to commercial loggers; predictably, forest rangers were also parceling off land to contractors in return for bribes.
But the issue was more complex than just big bad loggers and innocent villagers. Although at one time, the communal institutions of villagers fostered careful management of forests, these began to erode after the state took control of forest land. As they felt like forests didn't belong to them, the incentives to protect them vanished, and so overgrazing and overexploitation was creating a tragedy of forest commons as well.
Commercial logging began to be linked to the floods and landslides which were becoming more frequent and severe. In 1970, monsoon rains caused the Alakhganda River to rise some 20 meters, flooding hundreds of square kilometers, sweeping away homes, an entire village, 5 bridges and a bus laden with 30 passengers, and killing almost 200 people. Afterwards the state bore high costs clearing the state's many irrigation canals clogged with silt.
Despite the tragedy, logging continued unabated, and in the village of Gopeshwar in the Himalayas, villagers (mostly women, along with children, who are the main gatherers of fuel and fodder), spontaneously began organizing against the companies. Chipko in the local language means "to embrace," and the women put themselves between the loggers and the marked trees by hugging them. Over the next five years these protests began to spread throughout the districts in Uttar Pradesh, and won a major victory in 1980 when a ten-year ban on logging was declared in the area around the Alakhganda river basin. The movement saved some 100,000 trees, attracted media attention, and helped raise environmental awareness. Groups which have spun off from the original movement are not just blockading but also leading reforestation efforts, and by 1991 a million trees had been planted. They are also developing sustainable forestry operations, as one of the movement's leaders, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, explained: "[the movement is not saving trees, it's the judicious use of trees."
This is also in line with the idea that the forest needs of outsiders (i.e., urban dwellers) are best met if forests are managed by those who live among them.
Services/benefits restored: Forest services, gender and rural empowerment, public awareness. This could be seen as a localized system influencing a larger system.
India - Haryana Province - Forest Management
by Amanda Suutari
The Shiwalik Hills are in the foothills of the Himalayas in Haryana State, India. Over the years, the forested hills were in serious decline due to overexploitation, illegal felling, overgrazing, and the resulting erosion of the hills, vegetation loss, and declines in crop yields.
The Department of Forestry, alarmed at the multiple problems in the region, began building check dams and silt retention dams and restricting access to the forest, without much initial success (the state record on forest management is predictably...