World renowned Environmentalist and ‘Chipko’ movement leader Sunderlal Bahuguna passed away on Friday 21 May afternoon due to COVID-19. He was 94.
Bahuguna was admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences(AIIMS), Dehradun after testing positive for Coronavirus.
Bahuguna, a front ranking activist for the protection of ecology and environment, had led from the front a huge movement against the Tehri dam by building awareness and educating the villagers to protest against the destruction of the forests and the Himalayan slopes. He was awarded Padma Vibhushan in 2009.
A Century of Service
Shri Sunderlal Bahuguna, Padma Vibhushan lived a life of service for nearly a century.
My grandfather Shri Ram Prasad Bahuguna was a freedom fighter in the Tehri Andolan led by Shri Sridev Suman. It was a freedom struggle against the British and the princely state supporting them in the hill region of the Northern Province. I remember my father recounting how dada ji had narrated about Sunderlalji escaping the prison disguised as a ‘sikh’. The brilliance of Sunderlal ji lay in how he communicated about the Tehri freedom struggle at the national level. The erstwhile King had found this out.
Post independence, Sunderlal ji organised the anti-caste movement in Garhwal. It was during this time when he met Vimla Ji who was working in the Ashram of Sarla Behen, a Gandhian in Kumaon. During my meeting with Sunderlal ji and Vimla ji in 2019, Vimla ji proudly shared how she agreed to Sunderlal Ji’s marriage proposal on the condition that he will work with her in an Ashram in the hills and not join politics.
The couple then worked under the guidance of Vinoba Bhave and travelled widely in the hills. It is during this time that Sunderlal Ji’s attention drew to the ecological degeneration in the mountains. In his 90s, he oft remembered and narrated these long and arduous ‘padyatras’ in the mountains. He kept emphasising that the native broad leaved forests are dwindling.
Sunderlal ji found his true calling in saving the environment and brought the attention of people at national and international level to the ‘Chipko movement’. During his later years, he remained opposed to big dams. To bring attention to the harm they cause to the ecology, he fasted many times.
Sunderlal Bahuguna ji was an epitome of humility and kindness with firmness in what he believed was ‘just’. He lived a life with a message which we should all try to emulate.
– Abhilasha Bahuguna, Co-Founder Looms of Ladakh
A few hours ago received the sad news of passing away of Shri Sunder Lal Bahuguna. This is the greatest loss to entire world humanity and particularly the people of India and Uttarakhand. The world and India had lost the biggest environmentalist of present time. It is a personal loss for us as he apart from being part of Bahuguna family was the first cousin of my mother. With his death an era has come to an end.
He sacrificed his comfort and future for the environment so that the people can live on this planet happily. He was brilliant and had the foresight to lead the world on conservation of forest and environment. But as my Mother used to say his frugal and vagabond life style has made his family determined to succeed in worldly affairs leaving him to achieve his mission. In this he was ably assisted by his wife who was herself a great social worker. She was a good friend of my Mother and used to hear stories from mother.
On quite a few occasions I had interacted with him and discussed with him the issues of Himalayan forests particularly. When I was Inspector General of Forests in the Ministry during early 2000 he was sitting on a Dharna against the Tehri Dam. The Dam had almost completed and there was no other way to stop it so we have to grant the final forestry clearance to it in 2003.
He was the Guru of many and groomed several environmentalists but none come closer to him to meet his humility, intellect, stature and commitment. Many are in the profession to get some awards here and garner funds.
A true Saint today passed away physically but such divine souls never die. The legacy he has created is to be cheered as the vacuum in leadership he has left difficult to fill up. Let all Indians vow to live a life of restrain with nature because the pandemics and natural calamities like cyclones and cloud bursts are the results of over exploitation and misuse of nature. Rest in peace and thank you for coming to rescue the nature.
– Dr. VK Bahuguna, IFS retd, Chairman Centre for Resource Management and Environment and ex-DG ICFRI
Sunderlalji was much concerned, well after 40 years of his Chipko Andolan for saving forests in the hill region of the then Uttar Pradesh. He said no government makes policy keeping trees at the center of it. He was particularly critical of bureaucrats…
– Abhilash Khandekar, Senior Journalist, Member Madhya Pradesh Wildlife Board, Chairman Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association
To me Sundarlal Bahuguna represents a legend and even in his passing, his legacy will forever be a beacon of hope for a greener and sustainable spaceship earth. He will forever enlighten humankind to show the way forward for the resurgence of our doomed destiny out of the throes of environmental disrepair and despair. To me he presented hope not only in words but also deeds such as the ‘Chipko Andolan’ that we with resolve can struggle both individually and jointly for a purpose larger than our own short-sighted selves for the sustainable future of planet earth.
– Dr Anoop Swaroop, Chairman Global Knowledge Alliance, Chair of the Center for Global Nonkilling, recipient of Hiroshima Peace Award and former UNSC representative for Darfur
I joined Indian Forest Service in 1987, and I remember vividly Sir’s talk to us at IGNFA. I have fullest regards to this simple human being who brought the importance of trees in the common public during his times in the Independent India at a National level through the ‘Chipko Movement’. He was a great conservationist to the core. My salutes to the noble soul.
– R.Sreenivasa Murthy, IFS Retd, Bhopal.
The life of Sunderlal Bahuguna will guide us forever. All that he lived for will continue to act as a beacon for the entire world that faces the challenge of global warming like never before. Bahugunaji should be our guiding spirit in the 21st Century when we do not hear even faint voices against illegal mining, continuous encroachment and plundering of forest land – a process shielded by the charade of forest rights. There is massive devastation of the catchments of major rivers and thier tributaries, extensive erosion of slopes along our mountain ranges; a lot is getting destroyed every day.
– Lalit Shastri, Editor-in-Chief Newsroom24x7