Sikkim's lone pick for the Padma Shri this year, 98-year-old Tula Ram Upreti, from Assam Lingzey village in Pakyong district, has not only been associated with organic farming for the last eight decades but has also been championing the practice.
She has been a pioneer in the cultivation of paddy and other vegetables organically, without using fertilizers, carrying forward the legacy of organic farming in Sikkim.
Upreti has been continuing the legacy of his forefathers, when it comes to organic farming, even into his nineties. His family members said he stopped regular farming about 5-6 years ago due to recurring knee-related ailments.
Prior to Sikkim's annexation to India, in the erstwhile kingdom, Upreti used to trade with Yatung in Tibet in the 1940s and 1950s.
He said he had to travel with a cargo of rice, buckwheat, and maize on foot to Tibet, taking the silk route.
He used to cultivate his field, spread over 12 hectares, with his bare hands and cattle, along with his helpers.
The organic farmer from Sikkim also served as a local panchayat member from Lingzey ward under Assam Lingzey Gram Panchayat Unit for 25 years. He was also a two-time panchayat president and retired from social service in 1996.
Tula Ram Upreti studied till the fifth standard at Tashi Namgyal Higher Secondary School (now TN Senior Secondary School).
Upreti is survived by eight sons and seven daughters and has over 100 members in his family. One of his sons, KN Upreti, served as a minister and legislator from the Rhenock Assembly constituency from 1979-99.
Owing to his age, the 98-year-old couldn't respond to media queries.
One of his daughter-in-laws, Sunita Upreti said, "Upon hearing the news yesterday, we as a family wanted to be sure of his accomplishment before making him understand what award he would receive. We received a call from the Home Ministry on Wednesday afternoon. It was early evening when we received a word of confirmation from the Chief Minister's Office and later from Pakyong Distict Collector."
The District Collector invited him to be a part of the Republic Day celebrations where he was felicitated.
"We are jubilant on his achievement. Even at 98, he is championing organic farming in the state and making us proud. He is giving us a legacy to build on and carry forward," added his daughter-in-law.
His accomplishment and contribution to organic farming have been appreciated by the state government. Many call him the 'Father of Organic Farming' as he adopted the practice years before the 'Organic Mission' was initiated in Sikkim, 20 years ago.
Achievers from a range of professions and diverse areas of the country figure in the list of 106 Padma awardees this year, with the majority picked from the field of Arts.
The list comprises six Padma Vibhushan, nine Padma Bhushan and 91 Padma Shri winners. Nine of the awardees are women while seven will receive the award posthumously.
The awards are conferred by the President at a ceremonial function held at Rashtrapati Bhawan, around March or April every year. (ANI)