In a corner of Western Rajasthan, people have started celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and other joyous occasions by gifting each other tree saplings. On festival days or to mark a special event, they often get together and plant saplings – this has become popular as ‘harit pranam’ or ‘green salutation’. This is one of the novel ideas of grassroot environmentalist, Bhelaram Bhakhar. Affectionately called ‘tree teacher’, 43-year-old Mr Bhakhar has planted more than 4 lakh trees in last 24 years and connected 1.2 lakhs or 120 thousand people with this campaign in last 24 years.
Home to Thar desert, most of Western Rajasthan is extremely dry and arid. To prevent further desertification, decreasing water level and other adverse impacts of climate change, Mr Bhakhar has decided to plant local trees in large numbers. He plants and distributes saplings and seeds of native trees like khedji, jaal, rohida and kair – some of which are on the brink of extinction. Such local trees help maintain environmental balance in the desert region and some of these are even drought resistant.
As per his calculations, everyone needs to plant 300 saplings each to protect the unique ecology of Western Rajasthan. And he has been able to motivate a broad range of people – from his students and colleagues to housewives and elderly villages. To ensure that the communities themselves take care of these saplings, he also pioneered the concept of family forestry. This gives a sense of ownership to people (along with their families) to protect and nurture the trees planted by them.
Mr. Bhakhar, a teacher at a government school in Indroi village of Barmer district, started his green journey as a student, when he planted 50 saplings as part of a local government campaign in 1999. After being appointed as a school teacher in 2002, he started gifting saplings on every occasion to friends, students, colleagues, and relatives. Since then, he has been spending his one month’s salary every year for tree plantation. Now with some help from his friends, he has created a nursery of native and medicinal plants.
Another innovative aspect of his campaign has been his yatras or long marches. Every year during school vacations, he goes out on his motorcycles to different parts of Rajasthan as well as neighbouring states. To generate environmental awareness, he holds small street corner meetings and distributes seeds and saplings during these interactions. He also tells them about drip irrigation and how they can use discarded plastic bottles to water plants. Through these yatras, he has covered more than 27,000 kilometres in the last two decades.
(Photo and information courtesy, Bheraram Bhakhar and Madan Barupal)