From the Viewsroom

The Chipko Man will be missed

Poornima Joshi | | Updated on: May 25, 2021
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In the passing away of Sundar Lal Bahuguna, India has lost its most beloved environmentalist

In the 1990s when the economy had just opened up to trigger an avalanche of growth and bustling metropolises beckoned with what seemed like unbridled potential, the sight of a frail man staging yet another fast to block the big dam in Tehri was just plain annoying.

Curled up in a small hut along the unfinished dam in what is known as New Tehri, Sundar Lal Bahuguna was unyielding yet bemused by a cub reporter’s needling. Didn’t we need to ramp up power production, did he know that the gap between demand and supply widened with each passing year, why shouldn’t India harvest its hydro-power potential, was he opposed to growth itself? We went over the paradox of growth over a period of a week.

“Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist,” he said, quoting economist Kenneth Boulding. The conversations went through sustainability, nature’s equilibrium and Gandhiji’s socio-economic vision.

In the last three decades when a seismic sociological change accompanied iniquitous but burgeoning growth, he was a constant reminder of the ecological disharmony it had caused. It was a consciousness he and his erudite wife, Vimla, had striven to create along with comrades Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Gaura Devi, Suraksha Devi and countless others in the Himalayas where they carved out history with the Chipko movement against large-scale deforestation. These were people who truly believed that small is beautiful and dedicated their lives to creating profound public conversations about the delicate balance of nature and the disastrous impact it could have on human life. In Sundar Lal Bahuguna’s passing last week, India has lost one of its most beloved environmental activists and thinkers.

Published on May 26, 2021

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