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On Sunderlal Bahuguna’s 89th Birthday, Recounting Chipko’s Origins

By Dr Vandana Shiva –, 9 January 2016


A tribute to Sunderlal Bahuguna’s service of nearly a century to protect India’s Aranya Sanskriti. (Photo Courtesy: Navdanya)


On Sunderlal Bahuguna’s 89th birthday, this is a tribute to his service of nearly a century to protect India’s Aranya Sanskriti.

My ecological journey began in the forests of the Himalaya.

My father was a forest conservator, and my mother became a farmer after fleeing the tragic partition of India and Pakistan. It is from the Himalayan forests that I learned most of what I know about ecology. The folk songs and poems our mother composed for us were stories about trees and forests.

My involvement with the contemporary ecological movement began with Chipko, a non-violent response to the large-scale deforestation. Chipko means to hug, to embrace.

Word about the Chipko movement was spread through songs written by the folk poet Ghansyam Raturi, also known as Ghanshyam Shailani. Women declared that they would hug the trees, so the loggers would have to kill them first, if they wanted to cut trees.

The folk songs of that period spoke of nature and its beauty:

These beautiful oaks and rhododendrons,
They give us cool water
Don’t cut these trees
We have to keep them alive.

A Vow to the Environment

In 1973, I had gone to visit my favourite forests and swim in my favorite stream before leaving for Canada to pursue a PhD. But the forests were gone, and the stream was reduced to a trickle.

It is then that I decided to become a volunteer for the Chipko movement, and I spent every vacation on padyatras with Sunderlalji and his Gandhian colleagues spreading the message of Chipko.

I met Sunderlal ji in the early 1970s, who knew my parents well. Visiting the Silyara Ashram, he and Bimla di had become a part of my years of volunteering for Chipko.

Bimla di married Sunderlalji on the condition that they would move to a village and dedicate their lives serving the village community.

In order to make good on his promise to his wife, Sunderlal ji set up the Silyara Ashram when he got married to Bimla di. The ashram an epitome of Gandhian simplicity. We collected water from the nearby stream and joined Bimla di in the kitchen for simple meals .

The brilliance of Sunderlal ji lay in how he communicated about his life in the village at the national and international level. He was a journalist by profession after all, and wrote columns for many papers. When he was not busy with his padyatras, he was writing. His writings on Chipko are unforgettable.

Bimla di married Sunderlalji on the condition that they would move to a village and dedicate their lives to serving the village community. (Photo Courtesy: Navdanya)

Bimla di married Sunderlalji on the condition that they would move to a village and dedicate their lives to serving the village community. (Photo Courtesy: Navdanya)

‘We Have Come to Teach You Forestry’

One of most the dramatic moments of the Chipko movement took place in the Himalayan town of Adwani in 1977, when a local resident Bachni Devi, led a resistance against her own husband, who had obtained a contract to clear the forest. When the forest officials arrived, the women held up lit lanterns in broad daylight. When the forester demanded an explanation, the women replied saying, “We have come to teach you forestry.” He retorted mockingly, “You foolish women, how can you prevent the felling of trees by those who actually know the value of the forest? Do you know what forests bear? They produce profit, resin and timber.”

The women sang back in chorus:

What do the forests bear?
Soil, water, and pure air
Soil, water, and pure air
Sustain the earth and all she bears.

Sunderlal ji was arrested many times over. I remember the Badyargad Satyagraha where his hut was burnt down and he was arrested for protecting the forests. Bimladevi stepped in to support the hundreds of women who participated in the satyagraha.

The beautiful loving relationship between Sunderlal ji and Bimla di contributed greatly to the cause.

The relationship between Sundarlal ji and Bimla di has been the reason for the effectiveness of their cause. (Photo: Navdanya)

The relationship between Sundarlal ji and Bimla di has been the reason for the effectiveness of their cause. (Photo: Navdanya)

Women Knew the Real Value of Forests

The women of Chipko understood the ecological functions and services of the natural forests. In the 1970s, women peasants from our region in the Garhwal Himalaya came out in defence of the forests. All the logging had led to natural disasters like landslides and floods, and a scarcity of water, fodder and fuel. Since the women arranged for their basic needs from the forests, the scarcity meant longer walks to collect water and firewood, and a heavier burden.

Women knew that the real value of forests was not the timber from a dead tree, but the springs and streams, food for their cattle, and fuel for their hearth.

By 1981, after severe landslides and flooding of the Ganges, the government finally woke up to the message of Chipko – that protecting river catchments was a primary necessity in the Himalayan belt. Logging was banned above 1,000 metres, and the forests of Garhwal are today managed as Consevation Forests, instead of Commercial Forests.


Sundarlal ji still comes to the Navdanya Earth University to teach courses on Gandhi and non-violence. (Photo: Navdanya)

Plantations Are Not Forests

Plantations are not substitutes for forests because they are monocultures of industrial raw materials and do not perform the same ecological functions. Plantations of pine and eucalyptus in fact damage ecosystems, as a 1982 study on the Ecological Audit of Eucalyptus Monocultures pointed out.

The fact that forests and plantations are not ecologically equivalent to each other, has been forgotten despite the vital lessons of Chipko.

The addition of 3,775 sq km as plantations cannot repair the ecological damage of loss of natural forests.

Before it is too late, we need to wake up to the warnings of Chipko and Sunderlal Bahuguna to protect our forests and our Aranya Sanskriti.

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Chipko Warrior and Padma Vibhushan Sri Sunderlal Bahuguna Supports the Chipko of Doon Valley on his 90th Birth Anniversary

PRESS RELEASE from Navdanya

Today is the 90th birth anniversary of Padma Vibhushan Sri Sunderlal Bahuguna an environmentalist,  Chipko movement leader and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of Non violence  and  Satyagraha who was born on 9th January 1927. For years he has been fighting for the preservation of forests in the Himalaya, first as a member of the Chipko movement in the 1970s, and later spearheaded the Anti-Tehri Dam movement from 1980 till 2004. He was one of the early environmentalists of India who started taking up environmental issues like large dams. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honour, on 26 January 2009.

Because of the efforts of Sri Sunderlal Bahuguna and Chipko movement commercial forestry was banned above 1000 meter in the Garhwal Himalay in 1981 with the recognition that the highest value of these forests is for soil water and biodiversity conservation not as timber mines. However in the recent years we are again loosing forest cover because of maldevelopment like reckless road building, urbanization, consumer tourism etc. The tragic impact of the 2013 floods was also amplified by these activities. Just in last two years forest cover in Uttarakhand was declined by 30% creating new vulnerabilities and climate disasters, landslides and floods.

Doon valley was declared an eco-sensitive zone after the Supreme Court judgment that led to the closure of the limestone mines and the polluting industries. However there is a plan to transform the 350 acres tea estate with thousands of Sheesham trees into a smart city. The friends of the Doon which had built the movement to shutdown the limestone mining and polluting industry had a meeting to celebrate Sri Sunderlal Ji’s 90th Birth Anniversary and announce their commitment to protect the 350 acres which provides the valley with water, oxygen and a pollution free environment as a green zone. We have just witnessed the floods in Chennai because of reckless construction which destroyed the cities hydrological system. The smart city of Doon valley which will destroy the green zone will block groundwater recharge and intensify the risks of flooding.

The Tea Estate (Doon Tea Estate/ Archadia grant) falls in upper catchment of Asan River which flow from east to west and joins Yamuna River at Rampur. Chandrabani highland acts as water divide between Asan and Susawa river drainage. The tea estate is located over thick doon gravel bed (80-500mt. thick) which covers a vast area of Doon synclinal tough. Doon gravels consist of boulders, pebbles, cobbles, sand and silt material brought by drainage flowing from Mussoorie hills in north and Shivaliks in south. Doon gravel is a prominent source of underground water in Doon valley where water table found at 5 to 15 mt.

Report on Hydrological Effects of Urbanization (UNESCO Press 1974) reveals several adverse impacts of urbanization such as- Conversion of only 20% of a natural catchment can result in a doubling of the peakrate of runoff for that area; Replacing natural ground surfaces with impervious coverings reduces the infiltration by 30% t 0 70%.

Delhi is suffering air pollution emergency because of too many vehicles which had had to be rationed in odd and even scheme. Building a concrete jungle in place of the green zone will turn Doon valley into a pollution ridden valley like Delhi has become. The Friends of the Doon Stand committed to protect the lungs of the valley.

There is also security issue involved since the green zone is in the vicinity of the Indian Military Academy and the contract of designing the city is being given to the Chinese University.

There are also issues of corruption, Emaar MGF which was the company that built the corruption ridden commonwealth games village is also involved in the Doon valley Smart city. In September, Shilpa Gupta, director of Emaar MGF Land and wife of the company’s Managing Director Mr. Shravan Gupta, acquired 99 per cent stake in two little known companies -Alcove Realtors and Cameo Realtors. She bought 9,900 shares in both the firms. While the deal amount was not in the public domain, at a face value of Rs 10 each, the shares were worth less than Rs 2 lakh. At first glance, there’s only one similarity between Alcove and Cameo – both the firms had a negative net worth of about Rs 34 lakh each. But, a study of Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) filings reveals shocking details. Alcove and Cameo own 50 per cent each in Loam Realtors, which controls Dehradun Tea Company (DTC). DTC owns 1,127.48 acre land on the outskirts of Dehradun under tea gardens, factory and other properties. Though there is no formal estimate of the total land’s value, a 2013 report by Business Standard (Who acquired Dehradun’s tea estate?) had shown that one-sixth of an acre in the vicinity was sold for Rs 2 crore.

The acquisition has raised eyebrows as it took place weeks before the Uttarakhand government announced negotiations to purchase over 1,100 acres of DTC land for a reported price of Rs 1,728 crore. The Congress-led state government has planned a Smart City in this area and sent a proposal to the Centre in this regard.
“Four rounds of talks have already been held so far with Dehradun Tea Company for (about) 1,200 acres of land and with East Hopman Company (EHC) for 700 acres of land,” R Meenakshi Sundaram, vice-chairman of Mussoorie and Dehradun Development Authority (MDDA) told PTI in an interview published on November 30. Sundaram said the talks were in the final stage and about Rs 2,300 crore were needed to buy 1,900 acres of land from DTC and EHC.
Housing and Urban Development Corporation (Hudco) has agreed to grant a loan of Rs 2,200 crore for Dehradun Smart City project and a formal agreement in this regard with MDDA is expected soon.
On December 4, a report in The Tribune newspaper said MDDA and DTC have agreed on a price of Rs 1,728 crore for the DTC land.

After the acquisition of Alcove and Cameo, the Gupta family stands to be the ultimate beneficiary of the proposed Smart City deal. Emails sent to Sundaram and MDDA did not elicit any response. Interestingly, Shravan Gupta’s cousin Kanishka Singh is a close aide of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Before this, he used to work with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Shravan Gupta and Kanishka Singh’s grandfather V P Gupta was the founder of MGF group.

Sunderlal ji who dedicated his life also gave a message on his 90th birth anniversary to support the Chipko of Doon valley and to prevent the destruction of the Doon valley’s green zone into a not so smart-smart city.

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Bahuguna turns 90, says many more ‘Chipkos’ to be fought

The Times of India, 9 January 2016

[…] “Our original Chipko movement raised the issue that forests are not meant for traders and those who want to earn money through them. It helped create awareness about the need to save trees. But now, with increasing pollution and mindless cutting of trees, the situation is much more serious as people are not able to breathe properly and their very right to live is under threat. A new Chipko movement is therefore all the more necessary to ensure clean air and pure water, which can only be obtained if there is an abundant green cover”, said Sunderlal Bahuguna […]

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