Anand Pendharkar: Planting a gimmick

The noble intentions behind plantation drives aside, these projects still fall short of preserving our tree cover

Over the last few months, our government machinery, several NGOs and educational institutions have been gearing up to create a world record of sorts. The Maharashtra government has planned to plant 2 crore trees on the occasion of Vanamahostav 2016-17.

You may think that the nature lover in me would jump with joy at this attempt to increase our state’s tree cover. Unfortunately, I am not a big supporter of gimmicks.

On one side, many states are stripping off the protected status from wild species, such as the Indian peafowl (our national bird), the nilgai, rhesus macaques, wild pigs, gaur and even the highly venerated Asiatic
elephant. And, in the same stroke of genius, the ‘Draft Forest Policy’ is diluting the sanctity of our protected and deemed forests.

Expressways, railways and mining contracts compromising the contiguity of our forests are being issued with lightening speed. Right here, inside Mumbai city, several citizen groups are fighting a losing court battle to
protect and preserve their precious Aarey forest from the myopic Metro Yard plan. And then, there is the coastal road that will damage the ecological and social fibre of the city, which has always been the fisherman’s
home.

These occurrences are just the tip of the iceberg of the ecological degradation one is witnessing within the country. Shortsighted interests of industries, builders and every form of environmental pillagers seem to
override the right to life and habitat (Article 21) of wild creatures.

When one reviews the world record attempt of planting trees in light of all these changes, it becomes amply clear that the tree plantation drives are but a smart ploy to shift the attention from the real concerns and
issues.

By definition, afforestation is the establishment of a forest or stand of trees in an area where there was no forest. This, some confuse with reforestation, which is the re-establishment of forest cover, either naturally
(by natural seeding, coppice, or root suckers) or artificially (by direct seeding or planting). But, neither of these compensates for the actual protection of existing forests and green areas. Also, most afforestation
activities focus on only tree saplings, whereas a forest consists of moss, lichens, grass, shrubs, herbs, climbers, ferns, orchids and many other non-green decomposers. There are other creatures that depend on these
forests and make them their homes, both above and below. Plantations are usually exclusive and most are linear in orientation, giving little to no habitat for migratory birds or large landscape species such as eagles,
langurs, elephants, tigers, wild pigs or even monitor lizards and king cobras.

The common argument by ‘ecologically ignorant’ people is that it is better to have some plantation and landscape recovery than none. But, if one explored and studied the plant diversity along altitudinal or other landscape gradients, they would know that different plants grow in different places. Forcefully planting a mango or jamun sapling on a flat sea-level place and watering it will make it grow, but naturally these are riverine species that are meant for valleys.

I do agree that most citizen participants harbour noble intentions in joining the plantation drives. But, I recommend a simpler alternative like what my interns have done. Just go around your neighbourhood and rescue the banyan, peepul, jamun, mango and other wildly germinated plants that are growing randomly in walls and give them their rightful space along your driveways. In a few years, your area will be a haven for birds, squirrels, butterflies, bats and several other wild creatures.

Write in to Anand at sproutsenvttrust@gmail.com

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