Noted environmentalist, leader of Chipco movement – Sunderlal Bahuguna dies of Covid at 94

Noted environmentalist, leader of Chipco movement – Sunderlal Bahuguna dies of Covid at 94

Hummingbird News Desk

NEW DELHI, 21 MAY: Noted environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna, who was best known as the leader of the Chipko Movement, died due to Covid-19 Friday. Bahuguna was 94 years old and was being treated at the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) Rishikesh. 

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The AIIMS Rishikesh administration announced his passing after noon Friday.

One of India’s best-known environmentalists was admitted to the hospital on May 8 after testing positive for Covid. His condition turned critical last night, with his oxygen level dropping drastically. He was on CPAP therapy in the hospital’s ICU.

Condoling the environmentalist’s demise, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter and said Bahuguna “manifested our centuries old ethos of living in harmony with nature”.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat also expressed grief and said Bahuguna’s passing was not just a loss for the state but for the entire country as well.

Several other leaders and prominent personalities also mourned the loss of the environmentalist.

Born in 1927 near Tehri in what is now Uttarakhand, Bahuguna led a life of activism inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. Inspired by non-violence and satyagraha, he is credited for founding the Chipko Movement which spread across the Garhwal region, to protest against the felling of trees. People associated with the movement hugged the trees (hence chikpo in Hindi) to prevent them from being axed. 

He saw himself “a guard of the ecology of the Himalayas”, and said that the well-being of the Himalayas was important not just for Uttarakhand but the rest of the country as well. 

His commitment to the cause was such that in 1981 he refused to accept the Padma Shri since the felling of trees was rampant in the Himalayas. He also undertook a near-5000 km march across the Himalayas where he saw the pace of deforestation and devastation brought by developmental projects and submitted his findings in reports to the United Nations.

Besides the Chipko Movement, he was also a key figure in the protests against the Tehri Dam and even went to jail for it in 1995. 

Age couldn’t dull his concerns either. As late as 2018, when Bahuguna was 91, he said in an interview to the Times of India that dams were paving the way for calamities and expressed concern that lakhs of trees will be cut down to make way for the Char Dham road and Pancheshwar dam.

Referred to as a ‘Gentle Warrior’, Bahuguna undertook many fasts to protest construction of dams and felling of trees.

In a letter to worried friends, he wrote, “Himalaya is a land of penance. Nothing in the world can be achieved without penance. I am doing this on behalf of all who are striving to save our dying planet. Why should a river, a mountain and forest or the ocean be killed, while we cling to life?”

Bahuguna was awarded India’s second-highest civilian honour, Padma Vibhushan, in 2009.

Courtesy: Inputs taken from The Print.

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