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Sunderlal Bahuguna – Leader of Chipko Movement and noted environmentalist dies of Covid 19

Sunderlal Bahuguna – Leader of Chipko Movement and noted environmentalist dies of Covid 19


  • GS 3 || Environment || Biodiversity || Conservation Efforts

Why in news?

  • Sunderlal Bahuguna, a Gandhian who was the main force behind the Chipko movement, passed away recently due to Covid-19.

Environmental sustainability

  • In today’s manufacturing world, raw materials are extracted from the environment, transformed into new products, and then discarded.
  • This is a linear process with a beginning and an end, and it will eventually run out of raw materials. Additionally, waste generated during this process incurs additional costs related to disposal and pollution.
  • Products in a circular economy, on the other hand, are designed for durability, reuse, and recyclability. Almost everything in this process is reused, remanufactured, recycled back into raw material, or used as a source of energy.
  • According to experts, by implementing a circular economy transformation, India can create a more resource-efficient system while continuing to grow and reach new heights.

Sunderlal Bahuguna (1927-2021)

  • Sunderlal Bahugunafirmly accepted Mahatma Gandhi as his main teacher and inspiration. He was a Gandhian and he traveled the length and breadth of India to spread awareness about “Save the Himalayas”.
  • He started the “Chipko Movement” in the 1970s to save Himalayan Forests.
  • After the Chipko movement, the gave the message across the globe that ecology and ecosystem are more important.
  • He was of the opinion that ecology and economy should go together.
  • He followed a deeply committed social life and he was honoured with several prestigious awards, including the Padma Vibhushan.

Legacy and Inspiration

  • Chipko Movement
    • The Chipko movement or Chipko Andolan was a forest conservation movement in India. It created a precedent for starting a non-violent protest in India.
    • It began in 1973 in Uttarakhand, then a part of Uttar Pradesh (at the foothills of Himalayas), and went on to become a rallying point for many future environmental movements all over the world.
  • Causes for Movement
    • There was reckless deforestation which denuded much of the forest cover, resulting in the devastating Alaknanda River floods of July 1970.
    • The incidences of landslides and land subsidence due to a rapid increase in civil engineering projects.
  • Appiko Movement
    • On Sep.8, 1983, Pandurang Hegde, an environmental activist from Karnataka, started the Appiko (to hug) movement.
    • He derived inspiration from Sunderlal Bahugana’s Chipko movement which was started in Uttar Pradesh, in which villagers used to hug trees to save them from being cut down by the State, which then had no laws against felling of timber inside protected areas.
  • Anti Tehri Dam protests
    • A protest message against Tehri dam, which was steered by Sundarlal Bahuguna for years.
    • He used the Satyagraha methods and repeatedly went on hunger strikes at the banks of Bhagirathi as a mark of his protest.
    • Campaigned against the Tehri Damon River Bhagirathi, a mega-project with devastating consequences. He undertook one of India’s longest fasts after Independence, over 56 days.
  • Defender of the Himalayan people
    • Sunderlal Bahuguna was a passionate defender of the Himalayan people, working for temperance, the plight of the hill people.
    • Took 4,800 km Kashmir to Kohima padayatra (foot march)in the early 1980s to bring attention to the entire Himalayan region.
    • He also struggled to defend India’s rivers.
  • Supported women-led movements against the liquor mafia in the hills, and for the Beej Bachao Andolan, a movement to save Himalayan agricultural biodiversity from being wiped out by the unsustainable, chemical-intensive Green Revolution.
  • Anti-liquor movements and Dalit assertion movements 
    • He emphasized the protection of sustainable livelihoods along with the protection of the environment and was involved in anti-liquor movements and Dalit assertion movements which challenged various forms of untouchability.
    • He contributed to many constructive causes such as the Bhoodan (gift of land) movement.
  • Save Silent Valley 
    • It was a social movement aimed at the protection of Silent Valley, an evergreen tropical forest in the Palakkad district of Kerala, India.
    • It was started in 1973 by an NGO led by school teachers and the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) to save the Silent Valley from being flooded by a hydroelectric project.
  • Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) 
    • Starting in the mid-1980s, it was a social movement spearheaded by native tribes, farmers, environmentalists, and human rights activists against several large dam projects across the Narmada River.
    • Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat is one of the biggest dams on the river and was one of the first focal points of the movement.
    • The movement included court actions, hunger strikes, rallies, and gathering support from notable personalities.

Inspiration for the World

  • Sunderlal Bahuguna gave the movement a proper direction and its success meant that the world immediately took notice of this non-violent movement, which was to inspire in time many similar eco-groups by
    • helping to slow down the rapid deforestation,
    • expose vested interests,
    • increase social awareness and the need to save trees,
    • increase ecological awareness, and
    • demonstrate the viability of people’s power.

Other well-known environmentalists of India

  • S P Godrej was one of India’s greatest supporters of wildlife conservation and nature awareness programs.
    • He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1999.
    • His friendship with people in power combined with his deep commitment for conservation led to his playing a major advocacy role for wildlife in India.
  • M S Swaminathan- He has founded the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, which does work on the conservation of biological diversity.
  • Indira Gandhi as PM has played a highly significant role in the preservation of India’s wildlife. It was during her period as PM, that the network of PAs grew from 65 to 298.
    • The Wildlife Protection Act was formulated during her tenure as PM.
  • Madhav Gadgil is a well-known ecologist in India. His interests range from broad ecological issues such as developing Community Biodiversity Registers and conserving sacred groves to studies on the behavior of mammals, birds, and insects.
  • M C Mehta is undoubtedly India’s most famous environmental lawyer.
    • Since 1984, he has filed several Public Interest Litigations for supporting the cause of environmental conservation.
    • His most famous and long-drawn battles supported by the Supreme Court include protecting the Taj Mahal, cleaning up the Ganges River, banning intensive shrimp farming on the coast, initiating Government to implement environmental education in schools and colleges, and a variety of other conservation issues.
  • Anil Agarwal was a journalist who wrote the first report on the ‘State of India’s Environment’ in
    • He founded the Center for Science and Environment which is an active NGO that supports various environmental issues.
  • Medha Patkar is known as one of India’s champions who supported the cause of downtrodden tribal people whose environment is being affected by the dams on the Narmada River.

Challenges For Activists Advocating Environmental Conservation

  • Government opposition: The attitude of government agencies, as well as a lack of clarity on their part in enforcing environmental laws, is a major challenge for any environmental activist.
  • Criminal Prosecutions: Another issue is criminal prosecution, and activists are frequently arrested and imprisoned while carrying out an agitation on the charge of unlawful assembly.
  • Increasing Deforestation: It is difficult for them to halt the rampant deforestation, which has resulted in a scarcity of firewood and fodder, as well as water for drinking and irrigation.
  • Lack of Broad Support: Finding listeners across the political spectrum is a challenge that the current generation of environmentalists faces.

Way forward

  • In the coming years, the ability to cross ideological barriers in outreach will be critical for the success of the environmental movement.
  • If someone wants to be an environmentalist as effective and popular as Bahuguna in today’s world, he or she must be rooted and make a difference in the community or region in which he or she lives, not just through impersonal social media.

Mains model question

  • Chipko was less about hugging trees and more about denouncing everything the forest department stood for.Examine.