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close this bookBiodiversity in the Western Ghats: An Information Kit (IIRR, 1994, 224 p.)
close this folder9. Appreciating and conserving biodiversity
View the document9.1 Biodiversity and the media
View the document9.2 Role of non-government organizations in conservation
View the document9.3 Watershed management
View the document9.4 Energy conservation and alternatives
View the document9.5 Nature trails
View the document9.6 Sacred groves
View the document9.7 Rehabilitation of iron ore mine wasteland in Goa
View the document9.8 Reforestation to restore mining areas
View the document9.9 Mining: Social and environmental impacts
View the document9.10 Resource utilization in Uttar Kannada district
View the document9.11 Biodiversity of Dudhsagar valley

9.2 Role of non-government organizations in conservation

Genesis of voluntarism

The non-violent movement for national independence under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi had as a broader goal the restructuring and development of Indian society through the people's own initiative.

The post-independence era has seen the adoption of the Western model of development. It has also seen a steady destruction of biodiversity in the Western Ghats, for instance through the construction of large dams and the expansion of industry and transport networks.

Before the movement to save the Silent Valley in the 1970s and early 1980s, voluntary groups were limited in the scope of their activities.

The first eco-organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund-India (now the World Wide Fund for Nature), worked for the protection of wildlife. Radical groups such as Bhoomisena in Manor-Dahanu, Maharashtra, fought for the rights of tribes.

The emergence of the Chipko Movement in the Himalayas sparked voluntarism in the Western Ghats to protect its biodiversity from threats from so-called development activities.

Genesis of voluntarism



The British took control of the Western Ghats after annexing the territory of Tipu-Sultan and Marathas.


All teak in Malabar was reserved for commercial use by the British. This was the first show of interest in commercial forestry by the British.


Massive deforestation by the British for ship building and for railway construction and operation.


First railway built between Thane to Bombay in the Western Ghat region. First successful Indian cotton mill started in Bombay.


Government Forest Department formed to control the forest. Dietrich Brandis, a German, was appointed first Inspector General of Forests.


Indian Forest Act passed to establish state monopoly rights over forest resources. This was replaced by more comprehensive legislation in 1878.


First World War. 228,076 tons of timber (excluding railway sleepers) were supplied by the specially created "Timber Branch" to help Allied military operations in Egypt and Iraq. Approximately 1.7 million cubic feet of timber (mostly teak) were exported annually during the war.


Silent Valley identified by the British as a dam site.


Second World War. Timber Directorate set up in Delhi to channel supplies of forest produce from the provinces. Impact of the war on Indian forests was severe, especially in the Himalayas and Western Ghats.


A non-violent movement led by Mahatma Gandhi freed India from British colonial rule. Gandhi saw that technology should be an instrument to improve human skills and not to replace them. He advocated self-sustained development activities. Independence freed India from imperialistic exploitation of its natural resources.

Western Ghats.



The Indian government began major construction activities, expanded the rail and road networks and boosted industrial growth. This resulted in the destruction of vast areas of tropical forests and depletion in biodiversity. Since 1970, government policies have changed gradually to give more consideration to ecological balance.

Nongovernmental organizations

The detrimental effects of development on the environment have aroused the people's voice to save their environment and their own lives. NGOs emerged to protest against projects that depleted natural resources. This pressure has resulted in the formation of 510 wildlife sanctuaries throughout the country.

NGO efforts to conserve biodiversity

Silent Valley

Silent Valley is well known for its biodiversity. For instance, more than 20 genes for pest resistance have been found in traditional rice varieties grown in the valley.

In the late 1970s, the valley was threatened by a proposed 120 MW hydroelectricity project. In 1929, the British had identified the valley as a dam site. A technical survey was completed in 1958, and work began in 1976 with the cutting of forests near Kunti river. Public awareness had been built by the success of the Chipko Movement in preventing the destruction of natural resources in the Himalayas. Despite strong government resistance, NGOs such as WWF and Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad launched a campaign to save the Silent Valley. The campaign succeeded in 1983 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announced the scrapping of the project and the establishment of a national park in the area.

Bedthi dam

Similar issues emerged at North Canara, Karnataka. The state government was determined to construct a hydroelectric dam at this site. This would have destroyed a vast area of traditional horticulture, and evergreen hill forest. In 1980, farmers in the surrounding area organized a massive campaign against the project, resulting in its withdrawal in 1982.

Types of NGOs

NGOs work in a wide range of areas: protection of forests and water resources; promotion of clean environment; watershed development; poverty alleviation; afforestation; people-oriented forest policy; literacy; natural farming; protection of indigenous seeds, plants and animals; culture regeneration of rural and tribal communities.

Three broad categories of NGOs are:

Nature and technical groups: Impart educational and technical training in various facets of nature and technical aspects of the environment.

People's groups: Mainly formed by local people to conserve their natural surroundings.

Popular movements: Movements by activists and. the people to protest developmental activities which destroy biodiversity, and to conserve and regenerate natural resources.


The enormous growth in voluntarism in the Western Ghats has checked the speed of destruction to biodiversity. NGOs have helped ensure local people's participation in sustainable development.

Appiko Movement

The Appiko Movement, the Kannada version of the Chipko Movement, started in 1983 to protect the Salkani forest near Sirsi, Karnataka. The state Forest Department had begun clear-felling of the forest in September. About 160 men, women and children hugged trees marked for cutting. This campaign continued for almost six weeks. Some 12,000 trees were saved by this movement, and the destruction of biodiversity was halted in the area. The campaigners later began a massive afforestation programme to revegetate the area.

Save the Western Ghats March

In November 1987, two groups of marchers started from the northern and southern ends of the Western Ghats. After a 100-day march, they met in Goa in February 1988. The march highlighted the heavy depletion of forest in the north compared to the south. It also focused attention on the mushrooming development projects threatening the biodiversity of the region. The conference following the march extended its support for people's actions against dam construction in Pulingam (Kerala), the damming of the Sharavati in Utter Kannada and the Kaiga Atomic Plant. It also supported local struggles for common land and other movements and efforts.

Actions to stop destruction of biodiversity

· Halt development activities that cause deforestation.

· Undertake local-level projects for ecological sound development: jointly by government and NGOs.

· Revegetate eroded areas by planting indigenous species.

· Reserve natural water sources (springs, lakes, ponds, nallas) as public assets.

· Implement watershed development programmes with the active involvement of local communities.

· Promote natural (organic) farming and agro-based industry as sustainable alternatives to modern farming. Stop use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Develop seed banks in each village to protect local species.

· Start non-conventional energy programmes to improve daily life of the rural poor and reduce the amount of fuelwood cut from the forests.

Issues addressed by NGOs

· Water crisis
· Depletion of indigenous species of flora and fauna
· Soil erosion
· Deforestation
· Air and water pollution
· Growing migration
· Marginalization of rural poor and tribals
· Unprecedented population growth

Actions to stop destruction of biodiversity

Prepared by Kumar Kalanand Mani