Renowned environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna ,who has been associated with the famous Chipko movement of Uttarakhand, turned 90 on Monday.
He was born on January 9, 1927 in Maroda village near Tehri. A keen follower of Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence and Satyagraha, he fought for the preservation of forests in the Himalayas, first of all as a member of the well-known Chipko movement in 1970s. In the early 1980s Bahuguna made the Chipko movement even more popular by undertaking a 5,000-kilometre march through the Himalayan states. He visited hundreds of villages in the region to spread awareness and gather support for the cause.
later, he spearheaded the Anti-Tehri Dam movement up to early 2004. He then began taking up environmental issues like mining and deforestation across the country. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian honour, on January 26, 2009.
Bahuguna often recalls his first encounter with Sridev Suman, the young man who put up a fight against the King of Tehri. Bahuguna says, “I could know about Gandhi when I was a high school student at the age of 13. My inquisitiveness to know about a strangely dressed young man, who was dressed neither like the officers of the state nor like the poor subjects with loin cloth, but was putting on white Khadi cap, Kurta, jacket, dhoti and chappal, inspired me to chase him. He had a small box in one hand and a bag in another hand. I guessed he must be somebody like an archer who had demonstrated his feats in archery and we were so much impressed that we left going to the school for some days and followed him.”
“The idea came to my mind that his small box must contain something of our interest. I along with a few friends asked, what are you carrying in your small boxIJ He very gently replied, ‘come I will show you’. He sat under a banyan tree, opened the box and demonstrated his feat. He was spinning yarn. looking at this new wonder, we said, ‘It may take you a year to produce yarn sufficient for a shirt.’ He promptly replied, “Whether I get enough yarn for my shirt or not, Gandhi says that we can end the British rule and become independent, if every Indian starts spinning.”
Asked the young Sunderlal, ‘What else does Gandhi sayIJ How can a spinning wheel bring freedom’IJ Suman said, “If you want to know more you can buy these small booklets.”Bahuguna spent the whole amount of six annas, which his mother had given me for a week’s breakfast on three small booklets. One was by Gandhi – How to achieve SwarajIJ
Bahuguna sees himself as "a guard of the ecology of the Himalayas.”
"We have to look after the well-being of the Himalayas not only for Uttarakhand but for the entire country,” he says.
It may be mentioned here that in 1981, Bahuguna refused to accept the Padma Shri since the felling of trees was rampant in the Himalayas."It was after I refused the honour that the government banned the felling of green trees,” he remembers . Bahuguna believes that all middle Himalayan states needed to come together.”In the process of development, it is the local people who suffer the most, the people who have played a crucial role in conserving the Himalayas".