10 Famous Environmentalists From India You Should Know


An environmentalist can be defined as an individual who “advocates or works to protect air, water, animals, plants, and other natural resources from pollution or its effects.” (Dictionary, 2020) 

The term ‘environmentalism’ can be defined as an ethical and political movement aims at improving and protecting natural environment quality by, first, changing environmentally harmful activities, second, by adopting social, political and economic forms of organization that are necessary and/or conducive to the benign treatment of the environment and third, by reassessing the human-nature relationship. (Elliott, 2020) Therefore, an environmentalist is an individual who is an advocate of environmentalism. (Merriam-Webster, n.d.).

Environmental movements can be broadly classified into two categories. The first is the anthropocentric approach or the ‘human-centered’ approach wherein one is primarily concerned with the negative impact of environmental degradation on various aspects of human life. This is referred to as the ‘shallow ecology’ approach. The second category is termed as the biocentric approach or the ‘life centered’ approach wherein it is believed that the environment carries with itself a certain intrinsic worth that obligates human beings to take care of it. As a result, all individuals and elements from the natural environment form a unified ecological community. This is termed as the ‘deep ecology’ approach. (Elliott, 2020)

Environmentalists in India have contributed significantly to bringing about certain changes that have facilitated the process of environmental protection, enhanced the quality of the environment, and culminated in the improvement of human-nature relations. In this paper, I will identify ten environmentalists of India and their significant contributions. 

1. Jadav Payeng Also known as the ‘forest man of India,’ Jadav Payeng comes from the state of Assam. (infinity, n.d.) His contribution as an environmentalist entails creating a 550 hectare long man-made forest all by himself.

The forest of Muali Reserve lies in the Majuli Island, on Brahmaputra River in Assam. It has a total area of 1000 hectares and faces the threat of “extensive soil erosion.” Majuli shrunk to about more than half of its size in the past 70 years and faced the possibility of being submerged. To prevent this submergence, the Golaghat District Forestry Division began planting 200 hectares of the forest in the sandbars of the Brahmaputra in 1980. However, at the beginning of 1983, this program was abandoned by the authorities. Jadev Payeng stepped in at that moment and spent 30 years of his life trying to restore the forest. He started by planting bamboo and some other plant species which resulted in the restoration of that area. At present, the forest encompasses 1360 hectares of area and a variety of wildlife. (Fourtané, 2018).

 2. Sumaira Abdulali

Sumaira Abdulali was born into a family of environmentalists and has been working towards environmental protection since 2002. For more than a decade, she has contributed extensively to two issues that impact the environment, namely, sand mining and noise pollution. Her NGO, Awaaz Foundation played a crucial role in implementing silence zones and safe zone limits during festivals and also dealing with the issue of sand drudging which severely impacts the bio-system. She faced several threats from mafias and big politicians, however, her will and deter enabled her to remain focussed on serving the environment and directing all her energies to bring about a change in the society. (The Logical Indian, 2015)

3. Salim Ali 

Also known as the ‘Birdman of India,’ Ali was a naturalist and ornithologist. His contribution as an environmentalist encompassed conducting systematic surveys of birds in India. He also played a significant role in the creation of Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary and the protection of the Silent Valley National Park. His autobiography, ‘Fall of a sparrow’ has received wide acclaim and has been recommended to all individuals who consider themselves to be nature enthusiasts. For 50 years, he played a key role in modeling and shaping India’s environmental policies.

4. Rajendra Singh 

Also known as the ‘waterman of India,’ Rajendra Singh has worked towards the goal of efficient water management and harvesting. For over three decades, Singh has worked towards the rejuvenation and revival of water bodies in India. He is also known to be highly critical of the lax in the attitude of various government bodies and their pessimism towards water body revival. He has revived over 12 water bodies by constructing 11800 water structures in the regions of Karnataka, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra. This has helped in the recharging of aquifers. His work and contribution to the environment have won him the Magsaysay in 2001 and the Stockholm Water Prize in 2015. (Kamal, 2019)

5. Medha Patkar 

Medha Patkar is one of the most famous environmentalists in India since she initiated the ‘Narmada Bachao Aandolan’ and her work has played an instrumental role in changing the Indian environmental processes. Her dedication to protecting the livelihood of several families that were being displaced by the creation of the Narmada dam has led her to win the ‘Right to Livelihood’ Reward. (Innfinity, n.d.)

6. Marimuthu Yoganathan

Also known as ‘Tree man of India,’ Yoganathan is a Coimbatore bus driver who has planted around three lakh saplings over the past 30 years. He has contributed over 40% of his salary to contribute to the purpose of protecting the environment. Due to his efforts, the Tamil government has given him the title of “Suttru Suzhal Sevai Veerar” or the “Eco-Warrior.” (Innfinity, n.d.)

7. Mike Pandey 

Mike Pandey is a film-maker who specializes in environment and wildlife films. His movie, ‘Vanishing Giants’ played a crucial role in banning the harsh and outdated techniques for capturing elephants. He also played an important role in creating awareness about the Whale Shark and its conversation. This led him to win the “CMS – UNEP Award for Outstanding Achievement In Global Conservation.” Pandey is the first Asian producer to have won the Green Oscar and his continuous efforts towards environmental protection led him to win this award three times. (Innfinity, n.d.)

8. Kinkri Devi 

Kinkri Devi is a famous activist and environmentalist of India who waged a war on the illegal quarrying and mining in the state of Himachal Pradesh. Kinkri Devi was a sweeper who lived in deplorable conditions, however, she made continuous efforts to protect the environment. Her notable contributions to the Indian environment led her to win the Stree Shakti award in 1999 and attend the International Women’s Conference in Bejing. (Innfinity, n.d.)

9. M. C. Mehta

As a public interest attorney, Mehta filed several petitions which brought about monumental changes for the Indian environment. M. C. Mehta played a key role in curbing the industrial pollution which was polluting the Ganges and corroding the Taj Mahal. His efforts also led to the introduction of lead-free gasoline in India. He has also worked towards the ban of shrimp farming along the coast. He was given the title of ‘Green Advocate’ when he signed a Public Interest Litigation in 1984 that mandated the introduction of the discipline of environmental studies at the undergraduate level. Mehta now works with his NGO called the M.C. Mehta Environmental Foundation that aims at the provision of training programs for environmental attorneys. (Goldman Environmental Foundation, n.d.)

10. M. S. Swaminathan 

Known as the ‘Father of India’s Green Revolution,’ Swaminathan worked on agricultural research and plant genetics. His work led to the production of a high-technology invention in the wheat crops which paved the way for the Indian Green Revolution. He is known as an agricultural genius since he cross-bred a Mexican seed with a local variety that led to the production of a large number of grains. This helped in successfully tackling the famine issue in India as well as that in Asia. (Chary, n.d.)


Apart from the environmentalists listed in this paper, there are plenty of other individuals who have played a key role in the environmental protection of India. The contribution of not only Indian environmentalists but all of those across the world serves as an inspiration to become more aware of the harm being caused to the environment due to human activities. With several environmentalists working towards the cause of the environment, we must play our role in conserving the environment and augmenting their efforts. Our contribution towards the environment should not just be limited to academics and study of environmental concepts, it should go beyond the textbook and manifest itself in the ground reality. We must employ active action and voice our opinions to protect our environment.



Chary, V. Dr M.S. Swaminathan – the Agricultural Genius. Retrieved 12 May 2020, from https://www.wisdomtimes.com/blog/dr-m-s-swaminathan-the-agricultural-genius/

Dictonary. (2020). Definition of environmentalist | Dictionary.com. Retrieved 12 May 2020, from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/environmentalist

Elliott, L. (2020). environmentalism | Ideology, History, & Types. Retrieved 12 May 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/environmentalism

Fourtané, S. (2018). Jadav Payeng: The Man Who Planted an Entire Forest by Himself. Retrieved 12 May 2020, from https://interestingengineering.com/jadav-payeng-the-man-who-planted-an-entire-forest-by-himself

Goldman Environmental Foundation. MC Mehta – Goldman Environmental Foundation. Retrieved 12 May 2020, from https://www.goldmanprize.org/recipient/mc-mehta/

Innfinity. 41 famous environmentalists in India who brought a change – INNFINITY. Retrieved 12 May 2020, from https://www.innfinity.in/limitless/famous-environmentalist-in-india/

Kamal, N. (2019). Underground water aquifer recharge by respecting agro, ecological, climatic diversity, ‘waterman of India’ Rajendra Singh mantra for water rejuvenation | India News – Times of India. Retrieved 12 May 2020, from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/underground-water-aquifer-recharge-by-respecting-agro-ecological-climatic-diversity-waterman-of-india-rajendra-singh-mantra-for-water-rejuvenation/articleshow/70899214.cms

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Environmentalist. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/environmentalist

The Logical Indian. (2015). Know-How: Sumaira Abdulali Has Bravely Fought Against Noise Pollution And Sand Mining. Retrieved 12 May 2020, from https://thelogicalindian.com/environment/know-how-sumaira-abdulali-has-bravely-fought-against-noise-pollution-and-sand-mining/?infinitescroll=1

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Stuti Banga is a sociology and psychology student, with a keen interest in exploring the different concepts and facets of these two subjects and their intersecting areas. She is passionate about writing and researching on various topics related to sociological and psychological phenomena. She has undertaken on-field research and engaged in several volunteering programs. She wishes to inspire individuals through her work and bring a revolution in the study of social sciences in India.