Generations of school kids across India have heard of Sunderlal Bahuguna from their school books, in the social science chapter on the Chipko movement, if it is not already removed by the BJP governments. Recognizing the consequences of tree felling in the villages of Himalayan regions of Uttarakhand, in reaction to the bitter experiences of their families and people around, it was the local women who first started the resistance to it locally by embracing the trees in 1970s when the contractors’ men came for cutting them down. The movement was further developed and given new conceptualization by environmental activist Chandi Prasad Bhatt who founded the Dasholi Gram Swarajya Mandal (DGSM). Sunderlal Bahuguna popularized it and tried to spread it all along the Himalayan terrain. As a result , it got a partial victory in 1980, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered 15-year ban on commercial felling in the Uttarakhand Himalayas.
Though the movement was continued, consecutive governments went against it. Extensive tree felling and communication and real estate expansion have led to ecological destruction on very large scale leading to even Himalayan glaziers fizzling out as global warming rises. Huge floods, land slips have become frequent. Sunderlal inspired many to continue the movement. But, contrary to their wishes the ruling system moved in the opposite direction. When great environmentalists like Sunderlal Bahuguna dies, they will be leaving with a sad feeling as, in spite of whatever they could do, the ruling system imposing neoliberal corporate imperialism is spreading ecological destruction, not only in Himalayas, but everywhere.
Those in power and the monopoly media serving the system, have come out with statements, eulogizing him as a good man; not to take his message to the people, but to cheat them by continuing ‘business as usual’, not bothered about the impending ecological catastrophe they are creating.
This challenge should be taken up by the communists along with the scientists, environmentalists and all progressive forces who recognize the gravity of the consequences of the intensifying attack of the capital on nature. Explaining how the imperialist system with its plunder of nature has led to present Covid pandemic situation, along with frequent cyclones and other natural disasters, the students and youth in their tens of millions should be inspired to take up this grave challenge. That will be the best way to give tributes to the memory of such great environmentalists like Sunderlal Bahuguna, who consistently stood for the cause he started fighting 5-6 decades ago tirelessly, before succumbing to the attack of Covid at the age of 94.