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Green and blue milestones of independent India

The history of modern India's forests, water and soil is full of stories, life, resistance and hope
Last Updated : 14 August 2022, 19:15 IST
Last Updated : 14 August 2022, 19:15 IST

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The history of modern India's forests, water and soil is full of stories, life, resistance and hope.

Laws & Campaigns

1973: Chipko Movement, the first people-led environment conservation movement in independent India

When deforestation was rampant, a group of women in the Himalayan region of today’s Uttarakhand hugged trees to prevent loggers from cutting them, giving life to the iconic Chipko Andolan.

Under the guidance of Sunderlal Bahuguna, a Gandhian activist, the movement adopted the non-violent form of confrontation to curtain deforestation, bring to light vested interests, and increase social awareness about the need to save trees.

1973: Save Silent Valley

People in Kerala’s Palakkad district came forward to protect Silent Valley, an evergreen subtropical forest and home to the endemic lion-tailed macaque, from being flooded by a hydroelectric project. Thanks to the movement, the Kerala Forest Research Institute, after assessing the ecological impact of the dam, proposed the area be declared a biosphere reserve. The valley was declared as Silent Valley National Park in 1985.

1974: The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act

To prevent the pollution of waterbodies with the discharge of sewage and industrial effluents, the government enacted the Water Act which included rivers, streams, sea, tidal water, wells and inland waterbodies under its purview.

1981: The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act

The Air Act of 1987 was passed to preserve the quality of air and control air pollution. It defined air pollutant to mean any solid, liquid or gaseous substance, including noise present in concentrations sufficient to be injurious to human health. It also paved the path to set up the Central and State Boards for the Prevention and Control of Air Pollution.

1983: Appiko movement

The Chipko Andolan inspired the villagers of Uttara Kannada and Shivamogga districts of Karnataka to launch a similar movement to save their forests. In September 1983, men, women and children of Kalase forest hugged the trees to prevent their logging, thus starting the Appiko movement in Southern India. They were preventing the cutting down of these forests by the government to pave the way for industries like paper mills, plywood factories and a chain of hydroelectric dams.

1984: Bhopal Gas Tragedy

In the early hours of December 2, 1984, the residents of Bhopal were caught unawares by the leak of poisonous methyl isocyanate from the Bhopal plant of Union Carbide India Limited. The gas inhalation killed over 4,000 people, and over 35,000 people were estimated to have short-term and long-term health implications due to inhaling the gas. The public clamour gave birth to the 1986 Environment Protection Act, which gave the Union government power to set environmental standards, grant environmental clearances and lay down safety standards to prevent accidents and notify enforcement authorities.

1985: Narmada Bachao Andolan

The Narmada Bachao Andolan is a people-led movement spearheaded by Adivasis, farmers, environmentalists and human rights activists against large dam projects across River Narmada, including the Sardar Sarovar Dam. The protests, which included rallies and hunger strikes, were directed at the government’s lack of consultation with local residents for building these dams and for proper rehabilitation of the displaced people.

2006: The Forest Rights Act

The Act, passed in 2006, recognises the rights of the forest dwelling communities, including tribals, to forest resources for their livelihood, habitation and other socio-cultural needs. This Act reflected on their dependence on the forest and their traditional knowledge regarding the conservation of the forest resources.

2010: Establishment of the National Green Tribunal

The National Green Tribunal, constituted in 2010, is endowed with the power to hear grievances and appeals under all the environment-related legislations. It plays the role of the judiciary in directing environmental laws and administrative actions.

2018: Fridays for Future

A youth-led movement that began in 2018 by then 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, it quickly spread to other parts of the world, including India, where school-going youth are demanding climate action and declaration of climate emergency by their governments to save the future from climate change and its disastrous impacts.

2022: India bans single-use plastics

Nineteen single-use plastic items including straws, cutlery, earbuds, packaging films are banned. India is one of the highly affected countries with plastic pollution compounded by improper waste management.

Forest and Wildlife

1936: India’s first national park, was established.

It was renamed as Jim Corbett National Park in 1956. Today, the iconic national park is home to 110 tree, 50 mammalian, 580 bird and 25 reptile species.

1936: Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary, the first such in India was established.

1947: India’s first tree plantation week, later renamed Vana Mahotsava, started.

M S Randhawa, a civil servant, botanist, historian and writer organised the first Indian national tree plantation week in July 1947.

1949: First records of extinct animals from Independent India.

The pink-headed ducks, once found in the Gangetic plains, haven’t been sighted since 1949, topping the list of extinct animals from India since independence.

1952: India’s first National Forest Policy, aimed at managing forests, came into effect.

With this, the country introduced a top-down approach to manage forests and proposed to increase forest cover to a third of the landmass.

1972: Wildlife (Protection) Act

The law, introduced after India’s then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s speech linking environment protection and poverty alleviation at the United Nations Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm, provides for the protection of wild animals, birds and plants.

1973: Initiation of Project Tiger

A task force was constituted to protect the iconic cats. Nine tiger reserves were established to protect their natural habitats. Tiger numbers rose from 1,827 in 1972 to 2,987 in 2018.

1976: India became a Party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, one of the largest and oldest conservation and sustainable use agreements in existence.

2022: India plans to reintroduce cheetahs into the country

India once had cheetahs in the wild, but they went extinct 70 years ago due to incessant hunting. Although the plan has met with some criticism, the government says this is a
way to restore lost glory.

Water and irrigation

1948: Inception of India’s first irrigation dam, the Bhavani Sagar Dam in Tamil Nadu, and the Hirakud Dam in Odisha, India’s first multipurpose dam post-Independence. India ranks third in the world in dam building, after the US and China. In 1947, there were fewer than 300 large dams in India, and by 2000, that number had grown to 4000.

1956: Passing of the Interstate River Water Disputes Act and River Boards Act to regulate inter-state rivers and resolve interstate water disputes.

1960: Signing the Indus Waters Treaty, independent India’s first international water-sharing agreement.

1976: Setting up of the National Flood Commission to study India’s flood control measures. In 1980, the commission reported that the increase in floods was due to anthropogenic factors such as deforestation, drainage congestion and badly planned development. It questioned the effectiveness of embankments and reservoirs to control floods and suggested that the centre and states must consolidate their efforts to control floods.

1987: India formulates its first National Water Policy to plan, develop, conserve and manage water as a scarce and precious national resource. The aim was also to provide adequate drinking water facilities to both urban and rural areas and sanitation facilities to 80% urban population and 25% rural population. The policy has been subsequently updated in the following years, with the latest revision in 2020.

2019: India declared ‘nearly’ open defecation free. Nearly 94% of the population had access to toilets by 2019. While having access to toilets is one aspect, other surveys show that the practice of using them hasn’t been as high as expected, questioning the claim if India is indeed open-defecation free.

2024: Har Ghar Jal, an initiative to provide tapped water to every household under the Jal Jeevan Mission. Currently, only half of rural households have access to tap water connections.

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Published 14 August 2022, 19:06 IST

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