In analyzing the Indian environmental movement there is material, political and ideological expressions which are different from each other. The material context is provided by the wide-ranging struggles over natural resources. These conflicts have set in opposition on the one side, social groups who have gained from economic development while being insulated from ecological degradation and on the other poorer and relatively powerless groups such as small peasants, pastoral nomads, tribal and fishing communities whose livelihood have been seriously undermined through a combination of resource flows biased against them and a growing deterioration of the environment. According to Guha and Gadgil, the origins of these conflicts lie in the process of development itself. While forests, water and other natural resources are diverted to produce energy and commodities for the rich, the poor are made to bear the social and environmental costs of economic development whether in form of declining availability of natural resources a more polluted environment or increasingly physical displacement.
With these struggles as its backdrop the political expression of Indian environmentalism has been the organization by social action groups of the victims of environmental degradation. Action groups have embarked upon three distinct set of initiatives .First through a process of organization and struggle they have tried with varying degrees of success to prevent ecologically destructive economic practices. Second they have promoted the environmental message through the skillful use of the media and finally these groups have also taken up programmes of environmental rehabilitation like afforestation,soil conservation and so on, restoring degraded village ecosystems and thereby enhancing the quality of life of the inhabitants.
The party system in India have turned a blind eye to the continuing impoverishment of India's natural resource base and the threat this poses to the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable population. At the same time they have supported resource wasteful, ecologically destructive and centralizing technologies such as nuclear power plants and large dams .It has been left to the social groups called non party political formations by Political scientist Rajni Kothari to focus public attention on the linkages between ecological degradation and rural poverty.
Through the process of struggle, the spreading of consciousness and constructive work action groups has developed an incisive critique of the development process. Environmental activists have raised major questions about the orientation of economic planning in India, its in-built biases in favour of the commercial-industrial sector and its neglect of ecological considerations. Among the variety of protest forms used by groups resisting environmental degradation ,first comes the pradarshan a collective show of strength by communities at the receiving end of environmental degradation be the peasants opposing commercial forestry or forcible acquisition of land or fisher folk protesting illegal trawling. This take the form of a procession culminating in a meeting near the locus of official power- a dam project site or office of DM in which a petition may be presented to the authorities. The pradarshan is intended to demonstrate popular disaffection and the strength of numbers. It moves to the more militant form of protest the dharna or sit down strike. The dharna aims specifically at stopping economic activities that threaten the survival options of resource dependent communities.
Examples include attempts to stop the work at a dam site or success in Chipko movement. A more sharply focused variant of the dharna is the gherao where the official or politician is surrounded by protestors and heckled till he accedes to their demands. More militant is rasta or rail roko which blocks the channels of communication that may not even be directly linked to the object of disaffection. For example the supporters of the Narmada Bachao Andolan sat for days on the National Highway between Delhi and Mumbai blocking passenger and commodity traffic. The Gandhian Nationalism or jail bharo andolan lets the protestors deliberately court arrest by violating a law used to prohibit large gatherings. The final technique is bhook hartal or hunger strike to compel the state to yield in fear.
Environmental action groups in India have thus resorted to these techniques of protext.They are overlapping and complementary. These have helped to focus public attention on specific natural resource conflicts. Leading environmental activists Sunderlal Bahuguna and Baba Amte wrote signed articles in newspapers, drawing attention to the struggle they were engaged in. There has been extensive coverage by print media in reporting, interpreting and publicizing nature-based conflicts in modern India. Less visible but equally significant are the programmes of ecological restoration that various social action groups have undertaken. Many voluntary organizations have taken it upon themselves to organize villagers in programmes of afforestation,soil and water conservation and adoption of environmentally sound technologies. Some groups have been influenced by the Gandhian tradition of constructive work others by religious reform movements and yet others by the example of international relief organizations.
The group that pioneered the Chipko Movement was Dashauli Gram Swarajya Mandal.The one wing of Chipko movement identified with Sunderlal Bahuguna preferred to connect Himalayan deforestation with national and global environmental concerns the DGSM under leadership of Chandi Prasad Bhatt has turned from struggle to reconstruction work at the grassroots, They have concentrated chiefly on afforestation work in the villages of the upper Alakananda valley. They have promoted energy saving devices such as fuel efficient cooking stoves and biogas plants.This example show that reconstruction work can proceed hand in hand with struggle. Reconstruction work constitutes a valuable front for the environmental movement complementing the activities of consciousness building and popular resistance to the state politics. Various attempts are also made to develop macro-level organization to coordinate different groups working at different levels and zones.
An influential line of thinking within the state and state agencies is scientific conservation.We can see the work done by B.B Vohra a senior bureaucrat who was the first to draw public attention to land and water degradation.He noted in his paper ( 1973) that no countrywide organization or policy to deal with these problems ,nor was there coordination between concerned government departments.For him the solution lies in the creation of new ministries and departments to deal with problems of environmental degradation.
State is seen as the ultimate guarantor of environmental protection by many and the formation of Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 ,Forest Conservation Act of 1980 and Environment Protection Act of 1986 were seen in that direction.Source: Madhav Gadgil and Ramachandra Guha "Ecological Conflicts and Environmental Movements in India