Course:FRST370/Projects/Community's effort to conserve forests in Mandal, Uttarakhand, India and the Chipko Movement

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The case study is about the forest management and conservation efforts in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. Villages like Reni and Mandal played a huge role in protecting forests across north India by starting the Chipko Movement of the 1970s.

During the late 1960s, local people were highly concerned about the Himalayan ecosystem and their own survival due to indiscriminate felling of trees and commercial exploitation in Kumaon and Garhwal regions of the state. The region was given to private contractors and loggers, comprised of individual businessmen and other wood merchants and forest-based industrialists on state agreed terms. Local people had no say in the way the forests were being exploited and their protests against felling were often neglected referring to the process as a greater good for the nation.

In 1970, the Alaknanda river, a major river passing through the state, flooded and the overflowing water washed away huge areas of agricultural land, other properties and human settlements. More than 100 villages were affected. About 600 houses and crops spanning an area of 500 acres were destroyed. Roads and canals were blocked and filled with silt and mud brought down by landslides. Due to canal’s closure, crops in an area of 380,000 hectares were affected and around ten million rupees (approx USD 150,000) were spent to clear the blocked canal.

Linking this massive damage to the exploitation of forests in the state, different environmental organisation form in the state protesting involvement of local people in forest practices. DGSS, a community organisation, previously working for improving the conditions of locals started to demanding complete ban the contract system (and therefore on commercial felling). Moreover, many motivated villagers halted down efforts of government contactors to clear forests in Mandal by hugging them. Similarly, women in Reni village, led by head Gaura Devi, forced the contractors to step back after a 4-day standoff. They clearly meant that if the government wanted to cut trees, it would have to go over their bodies to achieve its goal. The movement widely came to be known as the Chipko Movement or Tree Hug Movement and simply shows how a group of motivated men and women overpowered powerful authorities and saved their native forests and the precious ecosystem.

Brief Description of the Place

Uttarakhand is a state in North India and is famous for its hill destinations and lies on the periphery of Himalayan mountain ranges. Tehri-Garhwal and Kumaon are two major regions in the state and contain several villages. These villages are small and isolated and are poor and undeveloped when compared to the rest of India. The Reni village lies on the western coast of the state and the Mandal village is around 300km east of Reni village and the two villages are part of the Tehri-Garhwal and Kumaon regions. The people inhabiting the villages are highly dependent on the immediate forests for their livelihood and other necessities. These forests, also called communal forests, provide necessary materials like food, herbs, herbal medicines, fibre, wood (used for handicrafts), and other items such as construction poles. These are also rich sources of food for livestock and other animals which either directly graze the fodder in the area or are fed by harvesting it from the forests.

Administrative arrangements

The communal forests are managed by the village panchayats (councils). The croplands and the homesteads (mostly farmhouses) privately owned by industries or other businessmen. The left out other large forest areas are state-owned forests but resources from these areas are often used by nearby villagers for their daily activities (food, fodder, wood etc.).

Forests held by states are often given on contracts to private businessmen or other industries not belonging to the area. These contracts are given away in auctions held by the government and the highest bidder gets the land. Villagers’ access to these forests becomes limited when they are given on contracts making it problematic for them to carry out their daily activities as their livelihoods are dependent on forest and its products.

Aims, Conflicts and The Chipko Movement

In the early 1960s, the Indian government began developing its borders with China. New roads were contracted to be built and focus was given on economic development of the areas (Kumaon and Garhwali areas). But the people in the region were alienated by this development. They were not provided with any work. Migrant workers from plains were called and paid for building these roads. Even if some mountain people asked to work, they were given lower wages due to their lack of skill when compared to migrant workers.

Due to this, DGSS (Dashauli Gram Swarajya Sangh) came up. It was a group of villagers from Garhwali and Kumaon regions aimed at providing employment to the villagers. The DGSS would take part in biddings for road contract and would pay its members almost double for doing the same work done by migrant workers under private contractors. But the organisation could not get work by building roads for long enough, so it decided to discontinue building roads.

DGSS (now changed to DGSM or Dasholi Gram Swarajya Mandal) then started focusing on setting up small industrial units in the region to make the villages self-sufficient with work. For these industrial units, the primary source of raw materials was planned to be surrounding state-owned forests. After bidding at a few auctions, the workers were able to get forest area contracts from the government but could not compete with big timber companies who would invest massive sums of money to obtain the land areas.

The Mandal (group) then entered the herb buying and marketing business and paid enormous sums to herb gatherers to increase the prices paid by other dealers. The cooperative also “set up a processing plant to make resin and turpentine from pine sap.”[1] The central government helped the association set up another seven of such plants. Therefore, the DGSS played a big role in trying to alleviate the conditions of the Garhwal and Kumaon regions.

When the Alaknanda floods of 1970 struck, the focus of the DGSM changed. The group did extensive relief work in the regions and realised that the calamity became worse due to indiscriminate clearing of forests. Due to extensive cutting on mountain slopes (as well as other areas), the tree density was badly impacted. Due to fewer trees, the soil was washed away easily by running water and this made the landslides more intense clearing away highways, homes or any other infrastructure in its way.

Now, the organisation started mobilising people against felling of trees in the regions by contractors, loggers or other wood merchants. They explained them the reasons behind the massive damage done by the floods and urged people to save trees in the same way that ‘ “a mother saves her child from the tiger by hugging the child to her breast, to take upon herself the wrath of the tiger.”[1] This is where the idea of Chipko (embrace) came up. The movement began in March 1973 when some contractors from a sports company headed to forests in Mandal village to cut ash trees (They obtained the land from government contract). Around a hundred villagers from the Mandal as well as neighboring village of Gopeshwar marched to the area while beating drums to attract other villagers. They went and hugged the trees forcing the contractors to retreat and head back.

The success of the movement lead to similar protests in surrounding villages. One of the incidents of Reni village became popular throughout the country where a small group of women held a standoff against loggers for over 4 days. The movement got support from all over the country and due to the pressure the government finally enacted a law banning commercial cutting in the state of Uttarakhand for 10 years.

Affected Stakeholders

    •  Sundarlal Bhaguna - An environmentalist from Garhwali region who wanted the forests to be saved from commercial felling and unsustainable use. He had a deep attachment to his land and wanted to save its ecology.
    • Gaura Devi and other villagers - Local people living in surrounding villages and having a deep cultural attachment to their lands.
    • Students, Owners of small forest-based industrial units - Actively participated in Chipko movement and tried to maintain it for a long term.
    • Dashauli Gram Swaraj Sangh (DGSS) - A local voluntary organisation which sets to demand that “preference be given to local people” for the use of forests.
    • Dashauli Gram Swaraj Mandal (DGSM) - The new organisation formed by DGSS which came to be recognised as a local environmental organisation that did relief work during the 1970 floods. Believes there is a direct connection between “forests and land and trees and humans”

Interested Outside Stakeholders

    • Contractors, industrialists and wood merchants - The state forests provided necessary raw material for their enterprises but they had no deep attachment to those forests.
    • State Government - Had to reform forest laws to keep local people’s interests a priority.
    • State Forest’s Department - Organised auctions to contract forest areas to various private companies and businesses.
    • Environmentalists in Switzerland - By being motivated by the movement, they led similar movements to protect forests in their country.
    • National Government (Prime Minister) - The government led by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announced a 10-year ban on commercial felling in the state.


The DGSM’s effort to improve the conditions of locals finally paid off. After a successful ban on commercial felling on trees in Uttarakhand for 10 years, the Group organised various events to restore the forests. The locals have come up with various techniques for planting and protecting trees in the region. Also, the Chipko workers are creating more employment by creating ways to develop forest farming in the region and thus fostering economic as well as ecological development.

Moreover, the movement’s national impact was clear from then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s announcement – ‘“the increasing decline in forests is bringing upon us various environmental, social and economic dangers. This trend will have to be stopped. I propose the immediate establishment of a National Wasteland Development Board which will meet the target of operating 5 million hectares of wastelands with fuel and fodder trees. We will start a people’s movement for afforestation.”’ [2]


The struggles of locals in the Garhwali and Kumaon regions is a clear example of how people living in villages surrounding forests face problems of deforestation, damage to the environment and struggle to achieve their livelihood due to unfair practices. Also, the case study makes it clear that unity is strength and that when people with a strong common objective come together, they become a force to be reckoned with. Therefore, they work not only for the betterment of their own but also motivate other people across the nation or even the globe.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bhatt, Chandi Prasad (April 1, 1990). "The Chipko Andolan: forest conservation based on people's power". Environment and Urbanization. 2: 7–18.
  2. Fortmann, Louise; Rocheleau, Dianne (1985). "Women and agroforestry: four myths and three case studies". Agroforest Syst. 2: 253–272.
  • Chakraborty, Somer (1999), A critique of social movements in India : experiences of Chipko, Uttarakhand, and Fishworkers' movement.
  • Emma Mawdsley (1998) After Chipko: From environment to region in Uttaranchal, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 25:4, 36-54, DOI: 10.1080/03066159808438683
  • Fortmann, L., & Rocheleau, D. (1985, December 01). Women and agroforestry: Four myths and three case studiesLa mujer y agrosilvicultura: Quarto mitos y tres estudios de caso. Retrieved November 21, 2018, from
  • Guha, Ramachandra (2000), The unquiet woods : ecological change and peasant resistance in the Himalaya. Berkeley : University of California Press, 2000.
  • Kasturi Rangan, Special to The New,York Times. (1980, Jul 28). India worries about destruction of himalaya forests. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  • Mukul. (1993). Villages of Chipko Movement. Economic and Political Weekly, 28(15), 617-621. Retrieved from
  • Petruzzello, Melissa (July 2018), Chipko Movement, Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  • Rangan, Haripriya (2000), Of myths and movements : rewriting Chipko into Himalayan history .
  • Weber, Thomas A. (1988), Hugging the trees : the story of the Chipko movement.

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This conservation resource was created by Course:FRST370.