Sunderlal Bahuguna frets for Himalayas, bats for Western Ghats

February 15th, 2009 - 11:28 am ICT by IANS  

Panaji, Feb 15 (IANS) Legendary green activist Sunderlal Bahuguna, who salvaged the greenery of the Himalayas with the radically novel Chipko movement in the early 1970s, now swears by the Sahyradri mountain range in the Western Ghats in southwest India.

According to Bahuguna, with the glaciers in the Himalayas melting at an alarming rate, the Western Ghats was virtually India’s last bastion of ecological balance.

“If India wants to fight global warming, the Western Ghats is the bastion it should fortify without delay,” Bahuguna told IANS.

Bahuguna was one of the pioneers of the Chipko movement in which people would hug trees (chipko in Hindi) to prevent loggers from cutting them down.

Bahuguna, who represents India’s first generation of green crusaders, said that the days of Himalayan rivers were numbered, which further accentuated the need to preserve the Western Ghats that stretch from Dhule in Maharashtra to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu.

“The source of the Ganges at Gangotri is expected to run dry in 2030,” the Padma Vibhushan awardee cautioned.

Bahuguna linked the wanton decimation of forests in India, as a contradiction to Indian culture. “We have always had an aranya sanskriti (forest culture). Indian culture always looked to the forests for inspiration. Our philosophies are intertwined with nature,” he explained, attributing a “lethargic reliance on consumerism” as a cause of the denuding of India’s forest cover.

“This strain of Western culture is gnawing at our roots. The West’s greed for consumerism has already given us two world wars,” he said.

Bahuguna said that the need of the hour was to enhance forest cover in India. “A forest is a community of living things. Everything in a forest is dependent on each other,” he said, deploring the trend of artificial forestry. “Today our forests have become plantations. These artificial plantations in the name of forests must stop. Wildlife is an integral part of forests,” he added.

He said that the British had done a great disservice to India by lopping the natural cover off the Himalayan slopes and planting trees exclusively for the sake of timber, which served a very specific colonial need for ready wood.

“Trees do not mean timber alone. Trees also mean oxygen, soil and water. Those who believe that economy and ecology are at two different ends of the spectrum are mistaken. Ecology in fact is permanent economy,” Bahuguna said.

He said that time for talk and deliberation was over and called for action to save the Western Ghats from being ravaged by unplanned development. “National unity comes about as a result of action. We need the zeal shown during the Chipko movement to save the Western Ghats,” he said.

The ageless champion who stands tall in loose fitting, crumpled white robes, his head wrapped with a white sash and a flowing beard, was in a jocular mood when he was called to grace a meeting of the country’s leading green activists held in the coastal state of Goa, nestled right between the Sahyadri mountains.

“People keep saying that jungles are disappearing. So I said to myself that I should grow one myself,” Bahuguna quipped, stroking his jaw.

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