During the 50s, after proclaiming Independence, the Indian government launched so called "development plans" in the Western Ghats of Karnataka state. This area had been declared in fact "backward" and major industries were set up in order to promote exploitation of natural resources. Forests turned to be sources of timber and eucalyptus and teak plantations, while many villages were being displaced by the construction of hydropower plants. The Supa dam, for example, was built over the river Kali in 1976. Large tracts of forests were submerged in the reservoir and many communities displaced.See more...
The destruction of mixed semi-evergreen forests denied people access to biomass for fodder, food, fertiliser, etc. The deforestation led to severe soil erosion and drying up of perennial water resources. Moved by these impacts, the youth of the Salkani village launched a movement locally known as Appiko Chaluvali (Appiko means “to hug” in Kannada). They embraced the trees to be felled by contractors of the forest department. They also extracted an oath from the loggers (on the local forest deity) to the effect that they would not destroy trees in that forest. The protest continued for 38 days and finally the felling orders were withdrawn. The success of this agitation spread to other places and the movement has been launched in 8 areas covering the entire Sirsi forest division. These areas included Mathghatta, Salkani, Balegadde, Husei, Nedgod, Kelgin Jaddi, Vanalli and Andagi. The objective of the movement was: (1) to protect the existing forest cover; (2) to regenerate trees in denuded lands, and (3) to use forest resources sustainably.
This is related to conservation efforts in the Western Ghats but the movement grew out of local livelihood requirements and not so much because of a nature conservation ideology. The local economy depended also on commercial forest products, pepper, cardamon areca nut.
A good introuction to the movement among scholarly articles comes from Manisha Rao (2012)'s work: "the Appiko Chaluvali of Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, India (was a) movement (that) played an important role in saving the forests of the Western Ghats, one of the biodiversity hotspots of the country in the 1980s. The Appiko Chaluvali was a spontaneous movement started by the local communities who struggled collectively against all odds to regain control over productive natural resources and to defend their livelihoods and lifestyles. Some of the larger questions ... are: Is this movement different from other environmental movements? What does this movement tell us about environmental movements in general? "
According to Manisha Rao (2012), the villagers mobilized more than 160 women, men and children, who walked into the forests in the pouring rain to prevent the felling operations. M N Hegde of Gubbigadde said, "A lot of people came for the movement, women, children, as well as old people. Whether they were Havyaks, Naiks, Goudas or Shudras, we all got together and spontaneously went into the forest to protest against the felling. At the start of the movement, a puja was done to the Van Devata (forest deity)".
Also according to Manisha Rao (2012), there was a direct influence or confluence with the Chipko movement in the northern state of Uttarakhand (started in 1973): "The young boys of the village got together and discussed the issue of felling. Sunderlal Bahuguna was invited to Gubbigadde. In August 1983 Bahuguna spoke to the local villagers about the Chipko movement in the Garhwal Himalayas". Sunderlala Bahuguna is a very well known activist and thinker who animated the Chipko mobilization as well as many other socio-environmental struggles in the Indian Himalayas (i.e. the struggle against the Tehri dam in Garhwal).
The movement turns now three decade old and the struggle is not over yet. The Save Western Ghats Movement has been founded for advocating for Western Ghats to be protected and destructive projects stopped. The second Citizens Manifesto on Western Ghats is an effort that seeks to put the entire issue into perspective, as much for the candidates seeking elections as the electorates of the region (elections happening in April 2014).
The demands are as follows: Western Ghats be declared/protected as Water Towers of South India; Yettinahole and Nethravathi River Diversion Projects, as well as other river diversion and dam projects be halted; to stop destruction of natural forests and mining; bottom-up process of conservation by empowering Gram Panchayats; evolving of supportive policies to practice sustainable ecological agriculture and horticulture; banning of Genetically Modified (GM) crops leading to GM Free Western Ghats and promoting sustainable Tourism and alternate energy that helps build local economies (1).