The fiftieth anniversary of Chipko, a pioneering environmental protest movement, is of relevance even today as the spectre of ecological degradation and climate change looms before humankind. The movement, launched by veteran activists such as Sunderlal Bahuguna and Chandi Prasad Bhatt in March 1973 to prevent the felling of trees by big mining companies, recognised even then the disastrous consequences of loss of forest cover in the hill state of Uttarakhand. The recent subsidence in Joshimath is proof of the continued impact of environmental neglect. The Chipko movement also played a crucial role in the empowerment of women, who were so vital for the agitation. Although initially the agitation was spearheaded largely by men, women later became an integral part of it as deforestation directly affected them because of lack of firewood and fodder for cattle. Their simple act of hugging trees and preventing their destruction was an inspiration for many.
The Chipko movement left behind a rich legacy. It inspired a similar agitation in Karnataka whereby tree felling in the Western Ghats was prevented. Subsequent protests against big dams and rampant commercialisation have all been inspired by Chipko. The movement’s victorious moment came when the then Central government led by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered a ban on tree felling in the Himalayan region in 1980 for 15 years till the forest cover was fully restored. However, the brave steps taken by the Chipko environmentalists have not prevented the unfettered exploitation of natural resources by greedy and uncaring corporates. It is now for the younger generation to take up the cause of environmental protection to save themselves and future generations. The time to act is now if the delicate ecosystem of the region is to be protected from further damage.
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