DEHRADUN: A fragile octogenarian with white head scarf entered a hall full of budding management students of the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies.
The crowd was mesmerised by the glimpse of the old man they had heard, so often.
It was a privilege for them to watch him so closely for the ﬁrst time, as his wheelchair was pushed towards the dais by a lady escort under careful eyes of his wife.
The man in sight with a white beard was Sunderlal Bahuguna, a legendary environmentalist of Chipko movement fame of the seventies.
He later led the Anti- Tehri Dam movement starting in the eighties to early 2004. Preservation of forests in the Himalayas has been a mission for the legend.
Bahuguna, the recipient of India’s second highest civilian award Padma Vibhushan in 2009, received a standing ovation from the young crowd.
“We need to think about the next generation instead of the mindless drive for development through constant abuse of the mother earth,” said Bahuguna at the Fourth International Conference on Management of Infrastructure (ICMI 2016).
Terming the earth as “mother”, he said, she has been abused everyday in the name of development and economic growth. “This abuse must be stopped,” said Bahuguna in a cloaked voiced to the young crowd.
Expressing abhorrence for big hydel power projects, he said, “small is beautiful while big is horrible”.
His prophetic prediction pointed to a next global war to be fought for scarce water resources as natural ecosystem is getting destroyed everyday with cutting trees worldwide swearing in the name of development.
Disapproving modern days’ drive for mindless consumerism, the Gandhian said, “Learn to lead a life with minimum needs like Bapu”.
He prescribed the student fraternity to adopt three A’s – Austerity, Alternative and Afforestation for the protection of the environment.
Bahuguna, who clung to trees to save trees and forests from felling by forest contractors in early seventies, advocated making the campaign of planting trees a global mission.
He created the famous slogan of the Chipko movement – “Ecology is permanent economy”.
Planting a tree insures humanity through generations of oxygen and water conservation, he added.
Bahuguna, a youth during the country’s independence, univocal in his dislike for the colonial legacy of an education policy that produces decorated clerks, even after nearly seven decades of freedom.
“Need of the hour is a system that establishes a linear relationship among head, heart and hand”, he concluded.
Bahuguna returned to the wheelchair as his wife Vimla Devi watched steps carefully amid standing ovation for the second time from the young students.
(Ratnajyoti Dutta is a former journalist with Reuters and currently the Editor-In-Chief of Construction Standard, a monthly e-news paper)