Embracing economic liberalization and globalization since 1991 has given priority to economic development over ecological issues. As a result, in most of the cases where communities launch struggles to protect their resources, the political leadership as well as the media and judiciary support the cause of economic development even to the detriment of the nation's environment.
The success of famous Chipko-Appiko Movement, a community driven initiative to protect the forests in different parts of India can be attributed to the large-scale awareness among the forest dwelling communities. However, we need to remember that The Chipko movement was launched in Himalayas during early 1970s. It spread to different parts of the country during 1980s, and was able to influence polices at state and national level which eventually led to progressive environmental legislations. Inspired by the Chipko movement, the struggles to protect natural resources are still fought by rural communities in different parts of the country.
In the post liberalization era, our education system has incorporated "environmental protection" as an important subject in our curriculum to reach out to younger generations. Obviously, there is increased awareness on environmental issues among people. Unfortunately, the heightened awareness has not converted into action.
The disconnect between awareness and action hits on our face everyday in urban areas and countryside. Modern urban living has diminished the relationship between humans and nature. The filth and the plastic waste of our cities, the desertification of our forests, and rivers converted into open severe for transporting pollutants of our factories is a common phenomenon today. Nevertheless, even in this grim scenario, there are communities who stand up and take action to protect the forests and rivers, to protect other natural resources.
The success of famous Chipko-Appiko Movement, a community driven initiative to protect the forests in different parts of India can be attributed to the large-scale awareness among the forest dwelling communities.
Hankon, a sleepy village on the banks of Kali River on the border of Goa and Karnataka is a living example of such vibrant community action. Situated amidst the green valley in Western Ghats, it was identified for setting up of thermal power station. Equipped with all the government permissions and political support the project proponents first enticed the villagers to sell their lands for setting up of medicinal plant with the promise of getting permanent employment. Gradually people realized that they were duped and the intention was to set up 450 MW thermal power plant that will destroy their forests and pollute the nearby Kali River.
Hankon villagers agitated successfully to protect the environment
from thermal plant
Alarmed by the disastrous consequences of this project, the village community organized themselves and launched struggle against the project. They sought the support of surrounding villages and the nearby district town of Karwar. The people around this region became aware about the impending air and water pollution due to the fly ash disposed by the plant. With the wider support of legal experts they found out that it was illegal to locate such power plant in the vicinity of Wild Life Sanctuary and Project Tiger area. In addition, it was in violation of Costal Regulation Zone that would lead to destruction of mangrove eco system. The people's power got backed by scientific and legal facts.
A sustained non-violent struggle by the community over two years reached crescendo in July 2009 when the police attacked the peaceful villagers and arrested 51 people including women and children. This brutal attack was not only widely condemned; it created a wave of sympathy among the people and strengthened the determination of the community to oppose the power plant. Eventually the strong and persistent resistance put up by the people won the day, and the project was abandoned.
It would be interesting to understand the main factors that led to the successful community struggle in Hankon. A careful analysis shows that this movement not only mobilized the rural people directly affected by the project, but it created a wider support group in the nearby urban town of Karwar and in Bangalore.
People with diverse backgrounds, lawyers, doctors, human right activist and ordinary men and women from around the region, became part of the movement. The struggle was not identified with any political party; in fact the mass support base forced all the political parties to support the cause. The strategy was to explore the implication of the project with scientific and legal facts to influence the decision makers.
The most important factor is the honesty and commitment of the people, and the community leadership. They stood like a solid rock, not giving way to any kind of appeasement, in which people and leaders were enticed with monetary rewards and assurance of future employment opportunities. The ethical and moral strength of the community was the corner stone of the successful community struggle.
The spread of individualism is the cornerstone of the consumer society. As this takes roots, the destruction of community feeling sets in. Once the community is destroyed, it is easier to win the individuals, to destroy the ethical and moral fiber of the society.
Hankon is not the only community initiative in India that has successfully led an environment struggle. The communities around Tadadi on the west coast in Karnataka have succeeded in halting the 4000 MW mega thermal power project. The forest villagers in Bedthi and Aghansihi valley in Western Ghat region in Karnataka have successfully halted the construction of hydel dam since last thirty years.
Such examples exist form Himalayas to Kanyakumari, from the mountain communities to the coastal villages. However, in recent years the onslaught of post liberalization policies has legitimized ever increasing greed and consumerism, primarily responsible for the destruction of the communities.
The visual media has changed the social behavior; the urge to acquire wealth, by any means, even with the destruction of natural resources, appropriating our common resources like water and trees, has become the norm of our society. Backed by the government policies, corporate houses are brazenly appropriating the natural resources for multiplying profits even at the cost of destroying the livelihood of millions of people. This conflict over natural resources has led to the spread of naxalism in the forest regions.
The spread of individualism is the cornerstone of the consumer society. As this takes roots, the destruction of community feeling sets in. Once the community is destroyed, it is easier to win the individuals, to destroy the ethical and moral fiber of the society. A strong community feeling is the basis for any struggle in society. Unfortunately, India is deeply entrenched into consumer culture that helps to glorify individual and corporate achievements, with least respect for nature. In contemporary Indian society greed is the accepted rule, need based living has become old fashioned.
In this grim scenario, it is a utopia to expect community actions to conserve environment. Nevertheless, the successful community initiatives are still thriving in different parts of the country. These are the seeds of hope for future environmental actions.