Ecological Conflicts and the Environmental Movement in India

ABSTRACT Nature-based conflicts have increased in frequency and intensity in India. They revolve around competing claims over forests, land, water and fisheries, and have generated a new movement struggling for the rights of victims of ecological degradation. The environmental movement has added a new dimension to Indian democracy and civil society. It also poses an ideological challenge to the dominant notions of the meaning, content and patterns of development.


Introduction As the centre of power and patronage, the Indian city of New Delhi is the venue of year round demonstrations by organizations representing different classes, castes and ethnic groups. Farmers demanding the provision of subsidized power and fertilizer, industrial workers campaigning for higher pay, and ethnic minorities fighting for a separate state all recognize the symbolic significance of a show of strength in the national capital. Assured of widespread coverage by the print media, these demonstrations are often held at the Boat Club lawns, a stone’s throw from the houses of Parliament and the government secretariat. May 1990 saw a series of events unprecedented even in New Delhi: a demonstration followed, within a week, by a counter demonstration. First, villagers to be displaced by the massive Sardar Sarovar dam, being built on the Narmada river in Central India, assembled in a peaceful dharna (sit-down strike) on Go1 Methi Chowk in the heart of New Delhi, and very close to the residence of the then Prime Minister, V.P. Singh. Consisting mostly of poor peasants and tribals, the demonstration lasted for several days, with singing, dancing and exhortative speeches by the protest leaders. Most of the demonstrators had come from Madhya Pradesh, the state containing a majority of the villages to be submerged by the dam. They dispersed only

Developnienz and Change Vol. 25 (1994), 101-136. 0 Institute of Social Studies 1994. Published by Blackwell Publishers, 108 Cowley Rd, Oxford OX4 lJF, UK.

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Advisory Committee: Yves Berthelot (France),  PV Rajagopal (India), Vandana Shiva (India), Oliver de Schutter (Belgium), Mazide N’Diaye (Senegal), Gabriela Monteiro (Brazil), Irakli Kakabadze (Georgia), Anne Pearson (Canada), Liz Theoharis (USA), Sulak Sivaraksa (Thailand), Jagat Basnet (Nepal), Miloon Kothari (India),  Irene Santiago (Philippines), Arsen Kharatyan (Armenia), Margrit Hugentobler (Switzerland), Jill Carr-Harris (Canada/India), Reva Joshee (Canada), Sonia Deotto (Mexico/Italy),Benjamin Joyeux (Geneva/France), Aneesh Thillenkery, Ramesh Sharma, Ran Singh (India)