Remembering Shri Sunderlal Bahuguna

OV Digital Desk

Environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna, who died on 21 May 2021. | Source: Twitter/@kuljitnagra1

Sunderlal Bahuguna (9 January 1927 – 21 May 2021) was a noted environmentalist and proponent and initiator of the Chipko movement. He was born in the village Maroda near Tehri, Uttarakhand on 9 January 1927. He had fighting instinct from the very beginning.  He started social activities at an age of 13. Bahuguna also mobilised people against colonial rule before 1947. He fought against untouchability and later started organising hill women in his anti-liquor drive from 1965 to 1970.

He adopted Gandhian principles in his life and married his wife Vimla with the thought and preconceived condition that they would live among rural people and establish an ashram in the village. Inspired by Gandhi, he walked through Himalayan forests and hills, covering more than 4,700 kilometres on foot and observed the damage done by mega developmental projects on the fragile eco-system of the Himalayas and subsequent degradation of social life in villages.

Chipko Movement & anti-Tehri Dam protests

The idea of the Chipko movement was of his wife and the action was taken by him. For years he has been fighting for the preservation of forests in the Himalayas, first as a member of the Chipko movement in the 1970s, and later spearheaded the Anti-Tehri Dam movement starting 1980s, to early 2004. He was one of the early environmentalists of India, and later he and people associated with the Chipko movement started taking up environmental issues, like against large dams.

A protest message against Tehri dam, which was steered by Sundarlal Bahuguna for years. It says “We don’t want the dam. The dam is the mountain’s destruction.” | Source: LingarajGJ

He consistently opposed the anti-Tehri Dam protests for decades, he used the Satyagraha and intermittently went on long hunger strikes at the banks of Bhagirathi as a mark of his protest. In 1995, he called off a 45-day-long fast following an assurance from the then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao of the appointment of a review committee on the ecological impacts of the dam. Thereafter he went on another long fast which lasted for 74 days at Gandhi Samadhi, Raj Ghat, during the tenure of Prime Minister, H.D. Deve Gowda, who gave personal undertaking of project review. However, despite a court case that ran in the Supreme Court for over a decade, work resumed at the Tehri dam in 2001, following which he was arrested on 20 April 2001.

The leader who has been fighting for the protection of the environment throughout his life succumb to COVID 19 and died in All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Rishikesh.

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi has expressed deep grief over the passing away of noted environmentalist, Shri Sunderlal Bahuguna.

In a tweet, the Prime Minister said, “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.”