The Earth has warmed by about 1 degree Celcius since the widespread use of fossil fuels like coal and oil in the 1800s, leading to global warming which has affected the climactic patterns of the world, and also altered its biodiversity. This is the chief environmental concern of the century, giving rise to the beginning of environmental activism, which refers to the coming together of various groups of individuals and organisations working in collaboration to address environmental concerns.
The roots of modern environmental activism lie in the nineteenth-century formation of the first environmental organizations in Europe and North-America. They covered interests as diverse as animal welfare, forestry, national parks and wilderness preservation, and urban sanitation. In the mid-twentieth century, environmental activism shifted its focus to local concerns of environmental degradation. The 20th century saw the creation of environmental policies by national governments spearheaded by the activism of many concerned citizens the world over.
Here’s a list of some of the prominent environmental activists in India :
I. A Bengali by origin, Anadish Pal took to prototyping in electronics after dropping out of college in in 1982. He started as a self-taught electronics designer who did freelance projects for Maruti, Udyog, Honda, the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped in Dehradun and Duracell. Pal has obtained 10 United States patents in total. In 2009, he got his most significant patent for an electromagnetically-controlled, fuel-efficient internal combustion engine titled “Relaying piston multi-use valve less electromagnetically controlled energy conversion devices.” He was granted two more patents in 2009, another significant patent in 2007 for a 3D computer mouse, one for a high torque electric motor, and one obtained in 2013 for gravity modulation. Pal has also spoken on behalf of saving trees in Delhi in the capacity of an environmentalist. In this regard, he has come under various threats from an anti-tree lobby.
II. Since the early 1980s, Sunita Narain has been speaking out about the state of India’s environment. Currently the director general of the Centre for Science and Environment, and editor of the fortnightly magazine, Down to Earth, Narain had been one of the most prominent environmental activists in the Indian scenario. In 2005 she was awarded the Padma Shri by the Indian government. She has also received the World Water Prize for work on rainwater harvesting and for its policy influence in building paradigms for community based water management. In 2005, she also chaired the Tiger Task Force at the direction of the Prime Minister, to evolve an action plan for conservation in the country after the loss of tigers in Sariska. She advocated solutions to build a coexistence agenda with local communities so that benefits of conservation could be shared and the future secured. “What we need today as a nation is a new paradigm of growth—whenever and however it happens,” she said in a speech to the Jaipur Literature Festival last fall. “This doesn’t mean we have to stop developing. Just we have to do it differently.”
III. Born in Dehradun, Vandana Shiva received a master’s degree in the philosophy of science from Guelph University, Ontario in 1976, and earned a doctorate from the Department of Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario in 1978. She developed an interest in environmentalism during a visit home where she discovered that a favourite childhood forest was being cleared and a stream drained, so that an apple orchard could be planted. Perhaps the best known Indian environmental activist, Dr. Vandana Shiva has been focusing on the effects of globalization on India’s food supply for decades. In fact, she is at the forefront of the anti-globalization movement, which is a global solidarity movement. She has campaigned for the rejection of corporate patents on seeds. She was also best known as a critic of Asia’s Green Revolution, an international effort that began in the 1960s to increase food production in less-developed countries through higher-yielding seed stocks and the increased use of pesticides and fertilisers. In 1991, she launched a project called “Navdanya”, which strove to combat the growing tendency towards monoculture promoted by large corporations. Shiva has also talked extensively about how saving the environment is a feminist issue, particularly in India because much of the labor connected to the processing and preparing food is done by women.
IV. Chandi Prasad Bhatt, who hails from Uttarakhand, founded the Dasholi Gram Swarajya Sangh (DGSS) in Gopeshwar in 1964, which later became a mother organisation to the Chipko movement, in which he was one of the pioneers. This was instituted in order to organise fellow villagers in Gopeshwar for employment near their homes in forest-based industries, making wooden implements from ash trees, and gathering and marketing herbs for ayurvedic medicine, and to combat vice and exploitation. Inspired by the Gandhian leader, Jayprakash Narayan’s speech, Bhatt was one of the young people who launched themselves into the Sarvodaya movement, and Gandhian campaigns of Bhoodan and Gramdan.
V. Pradip Krishen gave up film-making to photograph and write about trees for a general audience. Since 1955, Krishen began studying trees, and spending time in the jungles of Panchmarhi in Madhya Pradesh with the help of a forester friend. He even taught himself field botany and began identifying and photographing Delhi’s trees, extensively exploring the city’s green habitat.
VI. Known as “the waterman of India”, Rajendra Singh is an Indian water conservationist and environmentalist from Alwar district, Rajasthan. He won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership in 2001 for his pioneering work in community-based efforts in water harvesting and water management. He runs an NGO called ‘Tarun Bharat Sangh’ (TBS), which was founded in 1975. The NGO based in village Kishori-Bhikampura in Thanagazi tehsil near Sariska Tiger Reserve, has been instrumental in fighting the slow bureaucracy and the mining lobby. It has also helped villagers take charge of water management in their semi-arid areas through the use of johad, rainwater storage tanks, dams and other time-tested as well as path-breaking techniques.
VII. Sunderlal Bahuguna is an Indian eco-activist and Gandhian peace worker, who has been one of the leaders of the Chipko movement of the 1970s. Chipko means ‘embrace’ or ‘tree huggers’ and this vast movement has been a decentralized one with many leaders, usually village women, who have worked to protect the environment. They would often chain themselves to trees so that loggers could not cut down the forests. These actions slowed down deforestation, but more importantly they brought it to the public’s attention. His activism also led the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to pass a legislation to protect some areas of the Himalayan forests from being destroyed. Sunderlal Bahuguna was a leader in the movement opposing the Tehri dam project. He has also worked for women’s rights and rights of the poor. The Chipko Movement received the 1987 Right Livelihood Award, also referred to as the Alternative Nobel Prize, “...for its dedication to the conservation, restoration and ecologically-sound use of India’s natural resources.”
VIII. Better known as the Forest Man of India, Jadav Payeng spent 30 years of his life planting trees creating a real man-made forest of 550 hectares on one of the sandbars of the Brahmaputra river. He started by planting bamboos, after which he continued planting other species. The Molai forest created by him now encompasses an area of about 1,360 acres/550 hectares of forest. The area can be compared to the size of 15 football stadiums together. The Molai forest and Jadav Payeng have been the subject of a number of award-winning documentary films. In 2012, a locally made documentary film produced by Jitu Kalita, The Molai Forest, was screened at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
IX. Medha Patkar is an Indin social activist working for the subaltern. She has been actively involved in fighting for the rights of tribals, dalits, farmers, labourers and women facing injustice in India. Over the course of her activism she has formulated several national policies to fight against land acquisition, unorganised public sector workers and other downtrodden sections of the society. Patkar’s activism mainly took place in the 1960s and 1970s when the Indian government was involved in promoting the building of dams as one of the means of modernization. When the proposal of building the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River was granted approval, Medha Patkar launched the Narmada Bachao Andolan in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. In 1985 Patkar visited villages in the Narmada valley that were to be submerged after the completion of the Sardar Sarovar Dam in southeastern Gujarat, one of the largest of the planned projects. There she became aware of indifference exhibited by local government officials towards the people affected by the project. In 1996 Patkar founded the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), an agglomeration of progressive social bodies opposed to globalization policies. She was a representative to the World Commission on Dams, the first independent global advisory body on dam-related issues of water, power, and alternatives. Under the banner of NAPM, she has participated in and supported various mass struggles across India against non-sustainability, displacement and injustice in the name of development. Her work challenges casteism, communalism and all kinds of discrimination. She has been a part of numerous teams and panels that work on initiating and formulating various national policies and enactments including those related to land acquisition, unorganized sector workers, hawkers, slum-dwellers and the adivasis. NAPM filed a number of public interest litigations including those against Adarsh society, Lavasa Megacity, Hiranandani(Powai) and as well as other builders.
X. Born in the Almora province of Uttarakhand in northern India, Radha Bhatt is a peace activist who has worked all her life to strengthen women’s situation and protect nature through non-violence and “padyatras”. She had initiated local campaigns against alcohol abuse, and had also led campaigns for the protection of forests against corporate degradation and polluting mines. For this, she served several prison sentences. Bhatt travelled around the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh to study the condition of all small rivers created from the Himalayan glaciers. During her travels she found out that the water flow in many of the rivers had decreased, leading some of the rivers to dry out - something which proved an inconvenience to the village population.
Large power plants and dams being built on the Ganga, Yamuna , Gori and Sutlej without regard to ecology and the local population had also been one of the points of contention for Bhatt. Not only was this a tragedy for the people but it had also affected agriculture in the states of Punjab , Haryana , Uttar Pradesh and Bihar . As a mark of protest for such atrocities committed on Mother Nature, Bhatt started the organization “Save the Rivers in Uttarakhand” and started conducting “padayatras” as a form of awareness.
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