Most Prominent Environmentalists of India

Most Prominent Environmentalists of India


Salim Ali

Salim Ali was an Indian ornithologist and naturalist; known as the “Birdman of India”, Salim Ali was among the first Indians to conduct systematic bird surveys across India. He was instrumental in creating the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary (Keoladeo National Park) and prevents the destruction of what is now the Silent Valley National Park. He was awarded India’s second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan in 1976. He was India’s leading conservation scientist and influenced environmental policies for a very long period.

His autobiography is “Fall Of A Sparrow”.


Sunderlal Bahuguna

Sunderlal Bahuguna is a noted Garhwali environmentalist and majorly lead the Chipko movement. For years he has been fighting for the preservation of forests in the Himalayas, first as a member of the Chipko movement in the 1970s, and later spearheaded the Anti-Tehri Dam movement starting 1980s, to early 2004. He was one of the early environmentalists of India, and later he and people associated with the Chipko movement later started taking up environmental issues, like against large dams.

He was awarded Padma Shri in 1981 but he refused it. In 1987, he was awarded Right Livelihood Award and conferred Honorary Degree of Doctor of Social Sciences was conferred by IIT Roorkee 2009 in 1989. In 2009, he is awarded the Padma Vibhushan Award by government of India.


Jadav Payeng

He is also known as the Forest Man of India. Almost three decades ago, in 1979 Jadav Payeng started planting Bamboo in an area that had been washed away by floods. Today, that same land hosts 1,360 acres of Jungle called Molai Forest, named after Jadav “Molai” Payeng.That forest is now home to Bengal tigers, Indian rhinoceros, over 100 deer and rabbits besides apes and several varieties of birds, including a large number of vultures. There are several thousand trees. Bamboo covers an area of over 300 hectares. A herd of around 100 elephants regularly visits the forest every year and generally stays for around six months.

Payeng belongs to “Mishing” tribe in Assam. In 2012, India’s premier educational institution, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) named him the ‘Forest Man of India’. Later that year, the then President APJ Abdul Kalam felicitated him with a cash award in Mumbai. Sanctuary Asia bestowed on him the Wildlife Service Award and Govt of India also awarded him the Padma Shri Award.


Rajendra Singh

Rajendra Singh is the “Waterman of India”, he won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership in 2001 for his pioneering work in community-based efforts in water harvesting and water management.


Shri M.C. Mehta

Shri M.C. Mehta is known as the Green advocate as he introduced a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) in 1988 to introduce environmental studies course in all undergraduate programmes.  India’s most famous environmental lawyer, his most famous and long drawn battles supported by the Supreme Court include protecting the Taj Mahal, cleaning up the Ganges River, banning intensive shrimp farming on the coast, initiating Government to implement environmental education in schools and colleges, and a variety of other conservation issues.

Likewise, Justice Kuldeep Singh is known as the Green Judge who passed the judgement that the course be implemented.


Chewang Norphel

Chewang Norphel is a civil engineer by profession and has earned the nickname of Ice Man for his work in developing artificial glaciers. In remote regions of the country such as Leh, Norphel’s work is literally groundbreaking as artificial glaciers have helped increase groundwater and increase the season for irrigation.


Bano Haralu

Known as the ‘Falcon of the World’, a journalist turned conservationist from Nagaland, Bano Haralu along with her two colleagues unveiled the rapid decline of the Falcons, which were a vital factor for the agriculture as they preyed on the termites that would otherwise destroy the crops, by busting the Falcon scam of being hunted and sold in the local markets.

Thousands of Amur falcons congregate at the Doyang reservoir in Wokha district of Nagaland, having flown thousands of kilometres from Mongolia and Siberia. This is their annual stop at the reservoir; they rest and roost there before flying another staggering 22,000 km from here to South Africa, then onto Mongolia and Siberia, and back to Nagaland.

The organization, Nagaland Wildlife and Biodiversity Conservation Trust (NWBCT), which she started and is also the managing trustee, has been involved in Amur Falcon Conservation, Conservation Education, Bird guide Training and also in carrying out Biodiversity Surveys in Nagaland. For her contribution of wildlife conservation, Bano was awarded the Young Entrepreneur Award by Balipara Foundation in 2014.


Medha Patkar

Medha Patkar, one of India’s foremost rights activists, has been dynamic in bringing a change in the environmental process in India by starting ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ to fight for the justice of the dam project affected people. She has also been associated with a number of other movements. She mobilised massive marches and peaceful protests against the construction of India’s Sardar Sarovar Dam, which would have displaced more than 320,000 people. It was alleged that foreign funds were being used to hamper rehabilitation. Medha Patkar was also concerned that the people living there had no idea about the project. She formed the NBA in 1989, and has been involved since. As a peaceful means to protest, she took up fasting several times. NBA has subsequently created high level awareness. She has won the Goldman Prize for Asia in 1992.


Sunita Narain

An Indian environmentalist and political activist as well as a major proponent of the Green concept of sustainable development. In 1985 she co-edited the State of India’s Environment report, and then went on to study issues related to forest management.

Currently she is the Director General of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), and publisher of Down To Earth. Also, Sunita has been awarded the Padma Shri.


Vandana Shiva

She is a Delhi based environmentalist and eco feminist. A Gandhi follower, she is well Vandana Shiva known for her proletarian efforts to protect forests, organize women’s networks, and conserve local biodiversity. She has authored books such as Monocultures of the Mind, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development, Biopiracy and Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis.

In 2003, she was identified as an environmental ‘hero’ by the Time Magazine. She has founded and advised various organizations. Vandana Shiva is the director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy in Dehra Dun.

She was awarded the 1993 Right Livelihood Award, considered parallel to the Nobel Prize. Navdanya, a national movement to protect the diversity of living resources, was created in 1991. Since its 20 years of existence, more than 2000 varieties of rice have been conserved and 34 seed banks established in 13 states nationwide.


Purnima Barman

Purnima, is from Assam, has mobilised followers into the ‘Hargila Army’, an all-female team of conservationists dedicated to protecting the greater adjutant stork which, through this programme, are offered sustainable livelihood, training and education opportunities. The project is giving marginalised women a voice. Together they are changing local perceptions and numbers of stork nests have risen from 30 seven years ago to over 150 today.


Chandi Prasad Bhatt

Chandi Prasad Bhatt is an Indian Gandhian environmentalist and social activist, who founded Dasholi Gram Swarajya Sangh (DGSS) in Gopeshwar in 1964, which later became a mother-organization to the Chipko Movement, in which he was one of the pioneers, and for which he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 1982, followed by the Padma Bhushan in 2005.

Today he is known for his work on subaltern social ecology, and considered one of India’s first modern environmentalist. In 2013, he was awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize.