From correspondents in India, 09:31 PM IST
Baba Amte, who devoted a lifetime to ministering leprosy patients shunned by society and fighting for the environment, died here early Saturday. He was 94. He will be buried Sunday as per his wish that every part of his body be utilised rather than add to the pollution.
'Baba had told us he should be buried so that micro-organisms in the soil feed on his body and every bit of it gets utilized rather than the ash polluting the water sources,' his son Vikas said.
Born Murlidhar Devidas Amte, who later was anointed Baba Amte, the renowned social worker died Saturday at his Anandvan ashram here.
He had been suffering from blood cancer for last six months and was on a life support system. He died at 4.15 a.m., Vikas said.
He is survived by his wife Sadhana and sons Vikas and Prakash.
A recipient of several national and international awards, including the Magsaysay, Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan, Baba Amte established his leprosy rehabilitation centre at Anandvan in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra in 1951.
The Gandhian held the nationwide Bharat Jodo or Knit India campaign from December 1985 to April 1986 to promote peace and unite people across the country.
Baba Mate founded the world renowned Anandvan leprosy rehabilitation centre in Maharashtra's Chandrapur district. He also brought to the centre-stage the issue of colossal environmental destruction that mega developmental projects cause in their wake through his crusade against big dams, especially the Narmada dam.
Though he was unable to sit for the last over four decades because of an impaired backbone, he never ceased to work and remained mentally agile almost till the end of his life.
In a statement issued from Jalgaon in Maharashtra where she was on a tour, President Pratibha Pateil said: 'Baba Amte was an unique example of a person who committed his life to the welfare of destitute.'
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: 'Baba Amte's life long struggle to unite people across the length and breadth of the country on national and Gandhian lines and to eliminate all forms of discrimination and bias truly make him a saint of our times.
'The footprints of Baba Amte will be permanently embedded in the sands of time and will be a guiding beacon for all those working for the common good.'
Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh will attend the funeral besides a number of his cabinet colleagues, Chandrapur district guardian minister Anees Ahmed told IANS.
Union Minister for Tourism and Culture Ambika Soni was likely to represent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the funeral, Ahmed said.
Amte's family members, who were initially reluctant to accede to the government's request for a state funeral, relented when its emissaries told them the state owed it to the outstanding social worker on behalf of the people, the officials said.
Central ministers Praful Patel, Sushilkumar Shinde and Vilas Muttemwar besides Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil and his cabinet colleagues Satish Chanturvedi, Anil Deshmukh and Ahmed called on the bereaved Amte family and paid their condolences.
Condolence messages continued to pour from all over the world all through the day including those from President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Dalai Lama, the Buddhist leader who was Baba's personal friend, called to express his grief, Baba's son Vikas told IANS.