Environmentalist Sundarlal Bahuguna, famous for leading a movement against deforestation five decades ago, died of Covid-19 at the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS), Rishikesh, on Friday. He was 94.
The hospital administration said his oxygen levels had been dipping since Thursday noon. Despite efforts, his life could not be saved, the administration said.
“I am saddened to know about Bahugunaji. I am not in a position to express (my feelings),” Magsaysay award winner Chandi Prasad Bhatt told News18 over the phone.
Bhatt was closely associated with Bahuguna. Both were at the forefront of what is known as the Chipko movement, a forest conservation campaign in Uttarakhand (then in Uttar Pardesh) that drew global limelight. The movement was against axing of trees in Garhwal at the foothills of the Himalayas.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi mourned Bahuguna’s death. “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,” he tweeted.
In his youth, Bahuguna travelled Himalayan states on foot. He was a strong voice against the construction of the Tehri Dam, the tallest dam in India, on the Bhagirathi River. He led a campaign against it for two decades and maintained that big dams were a threat to the ecologically fragile Himalayas.
“I, along with hundreds of citizens, have been able to strongly convey to the world that big dams can never solve the water problem,” he told this journalist a few years back, when asked whether he felt disheartened that the Tehri Dam was commissioned despite his movement.
“Gaumukh glacier, the primary source for feeding Tehri Dam, is receding at a fast pace. What will authorities do when there is no water available from the glacier?” he asked back then.
Bahguna advocated sustainable development. In place of constructing heavy road infrastructure in the hills, the government must work towards building ropeways, he maintained.
Similarly, to meet the growing demand for electricity, he stressed the need for using natural water force of rivers to generate power. To mitigate forest fire incidents, he advised plantation of fruit-bearing plants, which could benefit people in the long run and eventually replace pine trees.
Bahuguna was also concerned over the migration of youngsters from hills, particularly from villages bordering Nepal and Tibet.