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Uttarakhand: Noted social worker Padma Shri Avdhash Kaushal dies at 84

Jul 12, 2022 07:21 PM IST

Avdhash Kaushal is famous for the limestone quarries case fought by him in the 1980s, in which the Supreme Court ordered the closing of the 101 mines in the Doon Valley

Noted social worker and Padma Shri awardee Avdhash Kaushal died at a private hospital in Dehradun on Tuesday morning following a prolonged illness. He was 84.

Avdhash Kaushal worked for the cause of the underprivileged and marginalised communities

Kaushal headed the non-governmental organisation (NGO), Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK), which was founded by him in the late 1970s for development work amongst tribal hill communities in the areas of Jaunsar-Bawar, a tribal belt of Dehradun district.

RLEK over the years worked for the cause of the underprivileged and marginalised communities and fought against the systemic inequalities and injustices with the main thrust being empowerment and emancipation of bonded labourers with a special focus on women.

It took many initiatives ranging from protecting the fragile eco-system of Doon valley, abolition of bonded labour system in Jaunsar-Bawar area of Dehradun and securing the rights (right to education, right to vote and livelihood rights) of marginalised communities.

The main milestone of RLEK was the limestone quarries case fought by it in the 1980s, in which the Supreme Court ordered the closing of the 101 mines in the Doon Valley.

In 2003, Avdhash Kaushal was specially invited by the United Nations to the World Summit in Geneva to chair the panel of a discussion on the importance of local content within Information and Communication Technology. Avdhash Kaushal, was also nominated as a member of the International Committee to probe into war crimes and disappearances in Sri Lanka.

Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami expressed his condolences on the demise of Avadhesh Kaushal. Dhami said that Kaushal was a symbol of vitality and lifelong-struggle. The chief minister prayed for peace to the departed soul and patience to the bereaved family members.

Kartikeya Hari Guta, a lawyer at the Uttarakhand high court who has been counsel in many legal battles of Kaushal, said Avdhash Kaushal, the crusader has left us but his fight will continue. “As a chairperson of RLEK, he contributed to society in a very positive manner. We remember him as a man of his words. Kaushal remained eager to raise the public cause before the high court and Supreme Court. It was his public interest litigations in the Supreme Court which resulted in the banning of limestone mining in the Doon Valley area”.

Gupta said Kaushal was a firm supporter of sustainable development and throughout his life, raised the cause of hydropower projects in Uttarakhand. “He always fought against the closure of hydropower projects in the state. It was the winter of 2010 when he first discussed the cause of removing ex-chief ministers from public properties. It was only because of his constant motivation and support, we were able to fight a long, more than ten years of, litigation and finally, the high court held that the occupation of government bungalows by ex-chief ministers of the state is illegal and also issued recovery against them”.

Anoop Nautiyal, a Dehradun-based social activist said, “In the passing away of Avdhash Kaushal, Uttarakhand has lost one of its finest and bravest who dedicated his life for the protection of the downtrodden and preservation of the environment”.

Nautiyal said he will always be remembered for his single-minded determination in leading the crusade against lime quarrying in the Doon Valley. “Kaushal leaves behind a rich legacy of judicial activism, for raising his voice in support of the hydropower projects in the hill state and in doggedly pursuing the stoppage of various benefits accorded to the former chief ministers of Uttarakhand,” he said.

Pallavi Gupta, who works with RLEK said, a crusader of public rights has departed this world and it’s a great loss not only to Uttarakhand but to the nation as a whole. “Kaushal took RLEK to the heights of a United Nations recognised NGO in India. Under his supervision, RLEK maintained various schools for the tribal areas in Uttarakhand. Kaushal fought for the rights of Van Gujjars. He was even slapped with frivolous criminal prosecution. Without a blink of an eye, he agreed to go to jail for the fight for the rights of the Van Gujjar community. It is with a very heavy heart that we say goodbye to him, however, I am certain that what he has done for the state and its people shall be remembered till eternity,” she said.

Kaushal is survived by one daughter, two sons and wife.

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