Sixty-year-old Vimal Bhai breathed his last at AIIMS in Delhi.
As the entire country celebrated the 75th anniversary of independence, we lost a great hero of our country, the noted environmentalist and social reformer Vimal Bhai.
A disciplined soldier of Gandhian philosophy, Vimal Bhai was a strong pillar of the country’s environmental and social movements.
In his four decades of active life as an activist, he has not only raised many powerful mass movements against major development projects, but has also created hundreds of environmental movements and organizations in different parts of the country.
He trained thousands of activists. It has left behind a long tradition of environmental laws in the country.
He was the National Coordinator of the National Organization of People’s Movement i.e. NAPM, an active member of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and the Coordinator of Uttarakhand based ‘Matu Jan Sangathan’.
Sixty-year-old Vimal Bhai breathed his last at AIIMS in Delhi. He suffered from tuberculosis and many of his organs had stopped working before his death.
Sanjay Parikh, senior advocate of the Supreme Court and one of Vimal Bhai’s closest friends, said, “He was a genuine person who was completely dedicated to serving the people and the environment.
His contribution to ecojurisprudence is unparalleled. From the implementation of Supreme Court orders in the Tehri Dam case since the early 90s, he was instrumental in mobilizing people, organizing protests and holding institutions and authorities accountable.
He further said that it was Vimal Bhai who highlighted the institutional concerns and functioning of the National Environment Appellate Authority in the Delhi High Court, which then reached the Supreme Court, where it was sought to the government to introduce the NGT Act and implement the NGT Act. in different parts of the country, he was forced to prepare banks for effective operation.
Vimal Bhai was known for his unique style of activism. He was a strong voice for the people of Uttarakhand, who were badly affected by the big dams. He was involved in most of the cases where the environmental and forest clearances of large dams like Vishnuprayag, Vishnugarh Pipalkoti and Srinagar Dam were challenged.
He was the man who mobilized villagers to organize and fight a legal battle to get compensation from dam companies after the devastating floods in Uttarakhand in 2013.
In one such case, the NGT had ordered the dam company to pay compensation to flood victims who suffered losses due to mismanagement of the sludge. Their battle was fought by the ‘Srinagar Bandh Aapda Sangharsh Samiti’.
An organization in itself as Vimal Bhai’s activist career began at the age of 22. He completed his graduation from PGDAV College, University of Delhi. He was always interested in the liberal arts. He had a great inclination for theater and poetry. At the age of 20 he met Bina Handa at the Gandhi Hindustani Sahitya Sabha (Sannidhi) in New Delhi, who introduced him to Gandhian philosophy.
Bina ji taught him how to handle the spinning wheel, which he continued to practice throughout his life. According to his friend MJ Vijayan of the Delhi Forum, “Gandhiji had a profound impact on his life. He not only imitated Gandhi’s philosophy but also practiced it in everyday life. He had changed his life from a follower of Gandhi to a complete Gandhian.’
During his work at Sannidhi he met Sunderlal Bahuguna, the great environmentalist and leader of the Chipko movement. He devoted himself completely to the anti-Tehri movement and coordinated all the basic works under the aegis of Bahugunaji.
It was during this time that he met two prominent figures in India’s social movements, Medha Patekar (Narmada Bachao Andolan) and Father Thomas Kocheri, who helped him grow as an activist and learn the art of advocacy. policies
He later founded the ‘Matu Jansanganthan’ (Maatu: soil, Jan Sangathan: People’s Union), a mass movement to protect the Himalayan ecosystem in Uttarakhand from large unplanned development projects.
Later, when Bahugunaji fell ill, Vimal Bhai took the responsibility on his shoulders and continued to work for the people affected by the Tehri Dam and other parts of Uttarakhand through the Matu Jan Sangathan. However, his work was not limited to the Maatu Jan Sangathan alone.
Until his death, he was an active member of both the NBA and the NAPM, reflecting his long-standing involvement and commitment to the movement. He inspired and trained many environmentalists.
His method of activism was unique and “process oriented.” On Madhuresh Kumar, his close associate in the NAPM for more than two decades, said, “Vimal Bhai’s method of activism was very different. He was undoubtedly blessed with the spirit of fighting against the system. He was exceptionally good at using research and incredibly skilled at adopting modern technology to support movements.
He goes on to say that Vimal Bhai was adept at making any man work for him, irrespective of his educational qualifications. Anyone who could read and write was a potential social worker for them. He established the foundations of very well-trained cadres within the NAPM and many other movements throughout the country.
He was a very down-to-earth man and for him his office was the battlefield. He used to open his laptop anywhere while traveling in bus or train or sitting in protest and make you work with him. He believed that even the smallest act or effort can leave a strong impact and that the work ensures that all social workers follow this ideology.
Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala, an eminent environmentalist from Tehri, on whose plea the Supreme Court in August 2013 banned any new dams on the Ganga River, says, “I was in favor of dams till 2006, but when I came to know Vimal, changed my attitude towards the Kotli BHEL Hydro Project, a proposed power project on the Bhagirathi River.
It was instrumental in introducing me to the river movement and transforming me into an activist. After that, Dr. Jhunjhunwala and Vimal Bhai worked together on many issues related to the rivers of Uttarakhand. He adds, “Vimal had a special ability to go to any unknown village, organize the people, train them and make them his locality in the blink of an eye.”
Manoj Mishra, the coordinator of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, remembers the moment he met Vimal Bhai for the first time in 2006 at his home in Delhi’s Pandav Nagar. She was wearing her own stitched half-sleeve kurta and the lungi she had so far.
Manoj found him sitting on the ground spinning cotton on his wheel. He says, “Vimal bhai was one of the founders of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan and really inspired me as an activist.”
Although Vimal Bhai’s main identity is due to his great work on the river and the rights of people who depend on the river, but at the same time he was equally concerned about any injustice happening around him.
He was living in Faridabad for the last few years and within a short span of time, he became immensely popular as ‘Vimal Kakà’. During the covid lockdown, she had completely devoted herself to the welfare of the people and was arranging food and medicine for them.
For the last few years he was tirelessly working for the welfare and proper rehabilitation of the displaced people of Khori village in Faridabad. He also showed concern for the rights of the LGBTQ community and organized and participated in several rallies and protests related to it.
Although his work was very serious and his social work was also aggressive, but personally he was very emotional, affectionate and always smiling. I wouldn’t miss a single opportunity to stretch our leg and joke about staying light during work.
He believed in collective humanity, treated everyone equally and gave them a special place in his life. He always kept the door of his house open so that any worker could come, stay and stay in his house.
He was always available to help. He wore only self-stitched khadi clothes, slept on the floor and had very few things in his home. She loved to cook and used to serve her own food to her guests.
He never registered any formal organization or thought of using his achievements to raise funds or for his personal aspirations. He sacrificed his life and devoted himself completely to improving people’s life and environment.
His style of work will be an inspiration to future generations and his style of work will be of great interest to social scientists. Like Mahatma Gandhi, Vimal Bhai also did not receive any award in his lifetime. However, he leaves behind a whole network of environmentalists, lawyers and organizations within which Vimal Bhai’s style of activism will live on.