Environmentalist and Chipko movement pioneer Sunderlal Bahuguna breathed his last on on Friday afternoon at Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) after a fight against COVID-19. The 94-year-old had been admitted tot he hospital on May 8 after testing positive. He had been critical since last night with his oxygen level dropping drastically.
"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," tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon after his death.
Condoling the death, Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat described it as a big loss not just for Uttarakhand and India but for the entire world. "It was he who made the Chipko movement a movement of the masses," he said.
"The demise of Shri Sunderlal Bahuguna marks the end of a glorious chapter in the field of conservation. A 'Padma Vibhushan' awardee, he was a Gandhian to the core. A legend in his own right, he made conservation a people's movement. My condolences to his family and admirers," tweeted President Kovind.
A Padma Vibhushan awardee and the author of multiple books, he had also held a Honorary Degree of Doctor of Social Sciences from IIT Roorkee. Interestingly, in 1981, Bahuguna had turned down the Padma Shri Award from the Indian government.
The Chipko movement began more or organically in the 1970s as villagers hugged trees in a bid to stop them from being cut down in Uttar Pradesh. Bahuguna, one of India's best known environmentalists had been one of the most prominent leaders of the movement. Credited by many for making it a mass initiative, he worked to inform villagers, undertook a massive march from village to village mobilising support and even met with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to highlight the issue.
But this was not his only contribution. Bahuguna was also a leading member of protests against the Tehri dam in Uttarakhand. He championed India's rivers and worked to improve the lives of locals living in the northern hills of India.