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  • Schools and colleges in Punjab to remain closed on August 25 in view of the Dera verdict
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Green is their kind

As the pitfalls of global warming and jungles of concrete swarm our planet, some unknown, unsung heroes are quietly working to make our environment and world a little better20 Aug 2017 | 12:35 AM

There are two types of people in the world — the doers and the rest. Times when Mother Earth is witnessing abnormal climatic conditions and concrete jungles are fast replacing the green cover; some doers are working relentlessly to make things better for themselves, the rest and the rest of the rest.

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Eesha Duggal

There are two types of people in the world — the doers and the rest. Times when Mother Earth is witnessing abnormal climatic conditions and concrete jungles are fast replacing the green cover; some doers are working relentlessly to make things better for themselves, the rest and the rest of the rest. They are the ones who cared to stop by, smelled the roses, ploughed their own fields, then someone else's till their acts became contagious and sparked a movement. Here's to the everyday eco-heroes who refused to be non-participants, who started as one-man armies, faced the heat and still ushered in positive changes. Now in the latter part of their lives, these persons promise to leave the world a greener and finer place. 

Jungle all the way

Jagat Singh Chaudhary, a BSF soldier, had just been home on leave in the fall of 1973 when a village woman, out to get fodder, fell down a mountain and sustained fatal injuries. The incident might have been unfortunate in every way, but it wasn't anything new for Kot Malla and many other villages of Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand, where trekking to treacherous heights for essentials like water and fodder was part of every woman's daily routine. 

The incident kept the young soldier up all night. The rest of his holidays were spent finding ways to improve the plight of the womenfolk of his village. Little did he know that what he would eventually start as an unfeigned attempt to provide respite to his fellow villagers would one day earn him a special name.

Chaudhary decided to grow plants on a wasteland his father owned, which was not just barren, but also uneven and stony. In 1980, he decided to hang up his boots and started cultivating these two barren hectares. Since no water was available in the vicinity, Jagat would walk 3 km daily, carrying water pots on his shoulders. His unbridled enthusiasm was infectious. Many others were inspired to go the ‘Jungli ‘way. Jungli was the name villagers gave the retired soldier. 

After turning an unyielding land into a jungle of mixed plants, Jungli started planting cash crops such as ginger, turmeric, pulses, vegetables and herbs, which not only benefited the environment, but also provided livelihood to people.

Suman Saurabh, a Delhi university student, made Jungli’s work the focus of his post-graduation thesis. “There are very few people who're doing the real work. I came to know about Jagat sir from my professor. A visit to his jungle in Rudraprayag was so inspirational that I decided to study it further,” maintains Suman.

In 2007, Chaudhary was invited by HNB Garhwal University, Srinagar, to develop a model forest on the campus, which he did till 2010.

He’s been undertaking plantation activities using wood, stone and pit technology. Now 70, ‘Jungli’ says he wants to save the future generations from the ill-effects of environment change; that’s why all the efforts. 

Chamba's Chipko campaigner

Sunderlal Bahuguna’s Chipko Movement of 1981 offered meaning and purpose to many people across the country. Though working for the cause of environment since 1973, the movement marked an important event in the life of Kulbhushan Upmanyu of Kamla village in Chamba, Himachal Pradesh, who marched from Kashmir to Kohima as part of the movement. 

After school, Upmanyu decided to cultivate a piece of land in his village. A small field could not contain this young man’s dream, who refused to turn a blind eye to the problems his fellow villagers faced. Soon, he formed a development group with other villagers in 1973, where they addressed issues of villagers without any government help. He started working towards making the village self-sustainable. 

What Bahuguna’s movement gave Upmanyu was a reason to concentrate on forests. He soon became a frontline campaigner in spreading awareness on forest conservation. That time, pine and eucalyptus plantation was under way on a large scale in Himachal, a dangerous practice which was set to jeopardise the ecosystem of the region and put villages in a major fodder crisis. Upmanyu stood up against the destructive move and launched a campaign. His consistent efforts bore fruit and after a seven-year fight, eucalyptus plantation was banned on the government land across the state and pine plantation was majorly discouraged. Owing to his endeavours to protect forests in the years to follow, oaks and rhododendron were declared protected in Himachal.

“It's important to focus on two things — plantation and systematic waste disposal. In plantation, we have to bring in more multi-purpose species and avoid pine and eucalyptus. There's also a need to learn the scientific ways of garbage disposal. The authorities should adopt the European model of waste disposal, which almost eliminates the chances of pollution,” says Upmanyu.

“I have always been interested in forestry. About five-six years ago, I met Upmanyu ji and joined him. He's been working for the preservation of forests for decades and his contribution is inspirational,” says Ranjeet of Chamba.

For many years, Upmanyu has been running an NGO — Himalaya Bachao Samiti. He now usually takes up advocacy work, but that, by no means, stops him from daily escapades into the wild.

The eco-warrior from Marathaland

When Ravi Purandre landed in India after spending the prime years of his life in the Gulf, he threw away his passport to purposely banish the temptation to travel any further.

Besides the warmth and love of his family, returning home to Pune also meant starting anew and finding a job. While still looking for one, he would unpremeditatedly wander off to Hanuman Tekdi — a bleak and lifeless hill, which had long been a haven for gamblers and drunkards.

The year was 1999, the hill was barren and Purandre had an idea whose time had come. He wanted to make Hanuman Tekdi green. He started planting saplings on the hill. Soon he met Srikant Paranjpe, who had already been working in this direction. “Together we started planting saplings and making trenches to harvest rainwater,” says Purandre, as he recalls the onset of the journey.

“One day, I saw NCC cadets practising for the RD parade at the Symbiosis College ground. When you have an unwavering commitment to your work, it's almost impossible not to connect it with everything you see. So yes, I saw these spirited children sweating it out and realised there was little that could match their verve and vibrancy. I wanted to rope in children and bring them to the hill for helping us. But above all, I believed that we, adults, had a responsibility that ran deeper than our subjective goals. It is not only wise, but also indispensable to inculcate regard and respect for nature in our young ones,” he asserts.

Pune schools and colleges, too, realised there was a wide scope for EVS activities at the once insipid Hanuman Tekdi. “We'd have youngsters working, laughing and eating together all day. It never felt like work,” says Purandre.

All along, the facelift of the hill was a matter inspiring enough to pique the curiosity of Pune residents, who now started dotting the hill for their walk.

In 2004, his group started getting support from the Pune Municipal Corporation.

“Moving ahead, we started making coco peat using a shredder, which I, being a mechanical engineer, designed myself. Once crushed, coco peat is used for mulching. It retains moisture like nothing else. A complete waste for the city, coconut shells were a treasure for our plants,” explains an innovative Purandre.   

Pune had been facing a problem of leaf litter for a long time. Purandre came to the rescue, yet again. “Two years ago, we created six tonnes of best-quality compost using leaf litter, putting an end to the problem. Our target is to make 30 tonne compost by the end of this year and I am confident that we'll find the first-of- its-kind leaf shredding solution in India,” he asserts.

Eighteen years have passed since Purandre and his team started rainwater harvesting and plantation on the rocky Hanuman Tekdi. Today, the hill is unrecognisable with green cover over 60 acres. Three heart attacks and a bypass surgery has failed to shake Purandre's resolve. Every morning, he walks up the hill, his steps hard to match, while children from nearby schools flock the area to assist him. “Is it work?” It’s not, they know.

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