For years, Sunderlal Bahuguna fought for the preservation of forests in the Himalayas, first as a member of the ‘Chipko’ movement in the 1970s, and later spearheading the Anti-Tehri Dam movement starting in the 1980s to early in 2004.

Sunderlal Bahuguna wearing a white kurta and a white turban sitting in the grass with three men sitting in front of himWikimediaCommons/RaghuvirSingh
news Death Friday, May 21, 2021 - 13:57

Environmentalist and ‘Chipko’ movement pioneer Sunderlal Bahuguna died at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences here on Friday after battling COVID-19 for several days. He was 94. He breathed his last at 12.05 pm, AIIMS Director Ravikant said. Bahuguna, one of India''s best known environmentalists, was admitted to the hospital on May 8 after testing positive for the novel coronavirus. He had been critical since last night with his oxygen level dropping drastically. He was on CPAP therapy in the ICU of the premier hospital. 

Condoling his death, Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat described it as a big loss not just for Uttarakhand and India but for the entire world. "It was he who made the Chipko movement a movement of the masses," Rawat said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that the death of the noted environmentalist is a monumental loss for India. 

“Passing away of Shri Sunderlal Bahuguna Ji is a monumental loss for our nation. He manifested our centuries old ethos of living in harmony with nature. His simplicity and spirit of compassion will never be forgotten. My thoughts are with his family and many admirers. Om Shanti,” the Prime Minister tweeted.

Recently, Sunderlal Bahuguna had extended his support to the farmers who are protesting against the three contentious farm laws. For years, Sunderlal Bahuguna fought for the preservation of forests in the Himalayas, first as a member of the ‘Chipko’ movement in the 1970s, and later spearheading the Anti-Tehri Dam movement starting in the 1980s to early in 2004.

Sunderlal Bahuguna had launched the 'Chipko Movement' in a non-violent, Gandhian style, in the foothills of the Himalayas in the then Garhwal region to protest trees that were being indiscriminately chopped off in the name of development, but were detrimental to the villagers and tribal community living there since centuries. His movement shot into global limelight with the Gaura Devi-led initiative to protect the trees in her village and soon it spread in different parts of the country with villagers peacefully 'hugging' trees to save them from the axes.

Also read: When Google honoured Sunderlal Bahuguna and the Chipko movement with a doodle

Though it was essentially a female-led movement, many men joined in and Bahuguna's guidance drew the attention of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who in 1980 imposed a 15-year prohibition of tree-cutting activities in the sub-Himalayan regions till the entire forest cover was regained. Emboldened by the success of the eco-feminist movement that proved to be a boon the environment protection, Bahuguna later embarked on a 5000-km foot-march (1981-1983) in the trans-Himalayan region to inspire the villagers on taking up campaigns to save the environment.

This resulted in diverse activities like women's groups guarding forests from illegal tree-cutting, fodder production from jungles, setting up plant nurseries and afforestation drives to reclaim the green cover, in some areas women tied 'Rakhi' to trees for protecting them, and other measures to minimize or end exploitation of forests for blatant commercial gains at the expense of the local communities.

For his efforts, Bahuguna was conferred the Padma Vibhushan in 2009, and has been honoured with many awards, including the Right Livelihood Award (the Alternate Nobel) and Jamnalal Bajaj Award, among many others. His associates and other key functionaries like Chandi Prasad Bhatt were also honoured and awarded, while Bahuguna diverted his energies to other eco-friendly movements like opposing dams, indiscriminate deforestation and others over the years.

"The 'Chipko Andolan' also stands out as an eco-feminist movement. Women formed the nucleus of the movement, as the group most directly affected by the lack of firewood and drinking water caused by deforestation.

With IANS inputs

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