Sunderlal Bahuguna: Environment crusader who pioneered Chipko movement

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Dehradun, May 21 (PTI) Cast in the Gandhian mould, renowned environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna who died of COVID-19 on Friday was a crusader dedicated to the pursuit of saving the Himalayan forests.

The Chipko movement of the 1970s which he launched with a bunch of dedicated environment activists like him, including Gaura Devi, to stop rampant felling of trees in the name of development was a reflection of how completely he identified with his cause.

Named 'Chipko' as people hugged trees during the movement to spread the message of loving and protecting trees, it was also an expression of the gratitude the crusader felt towards trees and forests for giving so much to humans, including oxygen, timber, shelter and medicine.

'Development cannot come about by butchering nature,' he would say, remember his close associates.

Noted environmentalist Anil Joshi, who had a long association with Bahuguna, said he was a reflection of Gandhi--a personification of the values that the Mahatma represented.

'In his austere lifestyle, his simplicity and the single mindedness with which he pursued his goal in life, he was a Gandhian in the true sense of the term,' said Joshi, who heads a well-known NGO HESCO that works for the environment.

'I have not seen Gandhi. But saw his reflection in Bahugunaji,' Joshi who was awarded the Padma Shri in recognition of his contribution to the field of environment conservation said.

He firmly believed that economic stability is not possible without ecological stability, Joshi said when asked to sum up Bahuguna's philosophy of life.

Joshi said Bahuguna's death has a hidden warning as he died of the coronavirus--an infection which in the final analysis is a result of man's mindless rampaging of nature. His attitude to nature was one of grateful devotion and service, Joshi said.

The earliest influence on his life was that of noted freedom fighter Shridev Suman who inspired him to join India's struggle for freedom at the tender age of 13. It was after he came in touch with his wife Vimla that he decided to move away from conventional politics and dedicate his life to saving the forests.

Born on January 9, 1927 at Maroda village of Tehri district, Bahuguna is not just considered the pioneer of the Chipko movement but also one of the most vocal opponents of the Tehri dam, which displaced a huge population besides drowning a number of villages.

Awarded the Padma Vibhushan and many other honours for his pioneering work in the field of environment protection, Bahuguna had observed an 84-day fast and got his head tonsured in protest against the project which displaced a huge population rendering them homeless.

He dug in his heels in protest against the project till the last minute. He had lost his own ancestral home due to the construction of the dam.

He also protested against the erstwhile Tehri royals which landed him in jail. He was also one of the most vocal critics of luxury tourism in the Himalayas and the construction of hotels which according to him did irreparable harm to the fragile Himalayan ecology.

He undertook several 'padyatras' to create awareness among people about conserving the Himalayan ecology and environment. He also conducted cycle yatras from Kashmir to Kohima for environment conservation and from Gomukh to Ganga Sagar for Ganga conservation.

He was a big critic of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Expressing his condolence at Bahuguna's death, another noted environmentalist, Chandi Prasad, Bhatt described him as a 'brilliant social worker'.

'His demise is painful for all of us,' Bhatt said. PTI ALM RDK RDK

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