Striving to preserve India’s ecology, he died at a hospital in Rishikesh after contracting COVID-19
A leading force in the pivotal Chipko movement that he launched in the Seventies, environmental activist Sunderlal Bahuguna passed away at a hospital in Rishikesh on Friday.
Bahuguna, 94, was admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Rishikesh on May 8th after contracting COVID-19. He is said to have been in critical condition since last night.
The soft-spoken, often calm-minded Bahuguna was born in the village of Maroda in Uttarakhand and eventually became a vocal force for the preservation of the dense and long-standing ecological diversity of his state as well as the Himalayas. In the Eighties, Bahuguna spearheaded the movement against construction of the Tehri dam, citing deep consequences to the inhabitants who would be displaced as well as the environmental impact. Even as Bahuguna protested right from the Eighties until the early 2000s — and took on an 84-day fast — Tehri dam was built and opened in 2006. Previously, Bahuguna had fasted for 70 days as part of the ‘Chipko’ movement. This was over and above the protest’s willingness to hug trees to prevent bulldozing of forests in the name of development, which was actioned by Chipko activists such as Gaura Devi, Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sudesha Devi, amongst others.
He was also a key protestor in adopting Gandian principles, the activist’s best known slogan for sustainability and environmental activism was “Ecology is permanent economy.” Conferred the Padma Shri in 1981, Bahuguna refused the title. Awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2009, he was also given the Right Livelihood Award in 1987, which is often referred to as “alternative Nobel Peace Prize.”
At a time when India’s ecological diversity continues to be adversely impacted by new legislations and encroachments across the land, Bahuguna’s activism set an important precedent for many environment-related protest movements which continue to this day. The Chipko movement, for its part, has for decades inspired songs and poetry, from Garhwali songs by acitivist, singer-composer Ghanshyam Raturi Sailani to more recently, fusion group Maati Baani and lyricist Piyush Mishra’s song “Chipko Re,” penned during the Save Aarey Forest protests in 2017.