Mass movements against deforestation | Sunday Observer

Mass movements against deforestation

27 November, 2022

The fight against deforestation has been the focus of many quarters lately. There are frequent reports of various parties who have stood up against deforestation in the past as well as in the present. Among them are activists such as Seattle, the Red Indian leader who played a huge role in protecting their homelands in the United States.

A few decades ago, there was a risk of huge deforestation due to selling trees and clearing land in an area belonging to the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. At the time, the people in the area embraced the huge trees that were ready to be cut down, and the peaceful protest was later known as the “Chipko Movement” and the people who participated in it were known as “Tree Huggers”.

By the 1960s, a project called Dasholi Gram Swarajya Sangh was started, focusing on the Uttarakhand region of present day Uttar Pradesh state of India. Its primary objective was to start small-scale industries by utilising the resources of the forests in the area. “Chandi Prasad, who was a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and an environmentalist, the pioneer of the Indian Independence Struggle, was its founder. The first factory opened under the program was one that produced equipment for local farms.

Although the project was implemented in a manner that did not harm the environment, by this time, a number of other projects were also implemented that destroyed the environment around the area. At that time, plots of land and trees belonging to forests were being auctioned through a contract system. The livelihoods of the residents of the area were lost due to the contractors bringing workers from other areas to work on those lands. They were given very tedious jobs like quarrying stones in those lands and very little remuneration.


The forest system of the area was being destroyed due to the clearing of land for various projects and the disposal of waste from those projects into the environment. The rapid increase in the number of people who came from other areas and settled in this area, and the fact that they did not care about the environment also caused the destruction of the environment. The ever-increasing environmental destruction also led to a major flood and landslide disaster in July 1970.

Villagers in the area, especially women, organised themselves against the contract system, which was destroying the environment and depriving them of their traditional livelihoods. In April 1973, a request by the Farm Equipment Manufacturing Factory to cut down ten trees was rejected by the state department. However, as a company located in another area was allowed to cut down about 300 trees, the workers of the factory also joined the protests.

The team of fellers sent by the factory to this area had to face an unexpected incident. A group of nearly 100 villagers and Sang factory workers, beating drums and chanting slogans, forced them to go back. After the protest, the state department canceled the permission given to an outside company to cut trees and gave it to the Sang company. This protest is believed to have marked the beginning of the Chipko Movement.

Although the problem was solved to some extent due to that protest, there was a lot of talk about the auctioning of commercially operated land in this area and the Government’s policy regarding forests. The reason for this is that the Government, which followed a strict policy regarding factories that operated in a manner that did not harm the villagers and the environment, followed a lenient policy regarding projects that operated in a way that destroyed the environment by clearing large forests.


On another occasion, when a company located in another area was given permission to cut down trees, there was opposition from the villagers. Due to the protest that lasted for many days, the company’s delegation left. After this protest in June 1974, until December of that year, the local residents worked together to protect the trees. They worked in groups to protect the trees during the day and night, and the persons who came to cut the trees went back.

The Chipko movement reached its peak in January 1974 when the Government decided to hold an auction for the sale of 2,500 trees belonging to a village. On March 25, 1974, fellers came to the village.

When they arrived, the government officials and contractors had arranged to send the men of the village and the employees of the Sang Company to another place, saying that it was for a compensation program.

When a young woman heard that the fellers had come, she ran and informed Gaura Devi, the wife of the village chief. As soon as the information was received, 27 women including Gaura Devi rushed to the place where the fellers and contractors were staying, and hugged the trees that were to be felled.

The group of women hugged the trees that night and the fellers and contractors were not allowed to cut the trees. The men of that village who returned the next day and the people of the surrounding villages also joined the protest in large numbers. As they hugged the trees for four consecutive days and did not allow them to be felled, the contractors and fellers eventually left the site. With this incident, news of the Chipko Movement spread rapidly across India. The then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh appointed a special committee to look into the incident and its background and make appropriate recommendations. The committee gave a decision that was fair to the villagers.