India Interior

Maharashtra’s date with Vanmahotsav

Usha Rai | Updated on January 17, 2018

Tree guards Villagers are employed under MGNREGA to care for 200 trees each

Hoping to set a Limca record, the State planted 2.81 crore trees on a single day

This year it was not the normal Vanmahotsav, or ritual planting of trees in Maharashtra during the monsoon season. An enthusiastic Forest Minister called on people to plant a record two crore trees on a single day, July 1, and gain an entry into the Limca Book of Records. The plantation was scheduled from 6 am to 6 pm. The event resembled an election day, with every government department and civil society participating. A whopping 2.81 crore trees were planted across the State by the Forest Department and Social Forestry Division. A registry was maintained for every tree planted. There was a huge turnout of schoolchildren and voluntary organisations.

Motivating the people

TSK Reddy, Chief Conservator of Forest, Nagpur, says the preparations began nine months earlier with seedlings selected and groomed into small plastic bags. Some of the saplings were older than two years and already two to eight feet tall, helping green stretches of highways within hours.

On the appointed day, pits had been dug and saplings placed alongside to ensure speedy planting. In Nagpur division alone, 4.81 lakh people were involved in planting 153 species of trees at 65,000 sites. Saplings were also planted in schools, hospitals, and government and private offices. The species included the banyan, bamboo, ber, peepul, amaltas and Arjun, as also a large number of fruit-bearing trees.

In previous years, nearly 4.5 crore trees were planted annually in Maharashtra.

Bihar plantation pattern

This greening of India in the monsoon months is an annual ritual. The survival rate of the trees, however, can drop to 40-45 per cent in about five years after planting. This happens primarily due to absence of rain, browsing cattle, vandals and development activities like road widening and construction.

Maharashtra has since 2011 employed workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to guard the roadside plantations for three continuous years. An individual or a family is in charge of 200 trees and gets paid according to the number of trees that survive.

Called the Bihar Pattern of Plantation Work (because that is where the concept germinated), it ensures the survival of 90-95 per cent of the trees. In the Nagpur division, close to 1.5 lakh trees are under the care of MGNREGA workers this year. The daily wage under the scheme has risen from ₹168 to ₹196, and three years of employment is assured.

“It is not easy guarding trees over a 3-km stretch of highway,” says Sheila Sudhakar Sonekar, 40, who had looked after a roadside plantation between Parsuni and Digawadi, near the Pench Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra from March 2013 to March 2016. Fifty of the 200 trees in Sonekar’s charge were damaged due to road widening work and she had to find replacements.

Fruits of labour

The hard work proved to be worth her while — over ₹1 lakh was transferred into her bank account. She was able to get her daughter married, assist her son in his engineering studies and support her daughter’s diploma course in pharmacy. Her husband runs a pan kiosk. Sonekar is hoping for another three-year term.

Nitu Sharma Kanodia, 32, from Parsuni village has completed two years of her three-year tenure. Forty trees in her care needed replacements. With the ₹80,000 that accrued to her account she was able to add two rooms to her home.

Spurred by the success, the government is also considering the Bihar pattern for blocks of 500 to 1,000 trees under MGNREGA. Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh too are following suit.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

Published on July 15, 2016

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