As Chennai reels under acute water crisis with the mercury soaring to a punishing 42–43 degree Celsius, and rare dark clouds gather only to disappear, it was heartening to hear incoming RI President Ian Riseley’s message, both at the International Assembly (IA) and the MDPETS in Jaipur, requesting incoming District Governors (IA) and club presidents and secretaries (MDPETS) to ensure that between July 1, 2017 and April 22, Earth Day, every Rotarian in their clubs plant at least one tree. “That way Rotarians would plant at least 1.2 million trees, hopefully more.”
Riseley added that D 3142 DGE B M Sivarraj has promised that his district alone would plant 1.2 million this Rotary year. (An MoU with the Maharashtra Government is being signed for this green initiative). A fantastic commitment, but what happens to the saplings after they are planted is crucial, as RI Director Manoj Desai pointed out at Jaipur. “For years, we’ve been planting trees; had we taken care of them India would have been absolutely green by now.”
Greening the earth is a fantastic idea, but there are two ways to do it; a crusade by environmental enthusiasts to save our planet. But what will resonate much better with the disadvantaged, particularly in urban India, is planting trees which give people direct benefit through fruits and vegetables. Rural India understands much better the value of trees, as more rural farmers move into the more profitable horticulture. But in our urban jungles where trees are hacked with abandon and greed to make way for concrete structures, if the greening initiative can combine giving people direct benefits from the trees planted, they will surely be protected.
Let’s rewind to what D 3131 DG (2014–15) Vivek Aranha had done during his term. Apart from adding 1,500 new members, the highest by a district in the Rotary world, he had ushered in what he called a drumstick revolution. Having seen in Tamil Nadu’s villages how the vegetable drumstick, a rich source of iron, is used to improve low haemoglobin levels in women, he encouraged Rotarians in his district to plant tens of thousands of drumstick trees. When a new club, RC Pune Next Gen, with a whopping 406 members was chartered, one of its first big projects was to plant 100,000 subsidised drumstick saplings in rural and urban areas of the district. All members were asked to plant at least two saplings in their homes and neighbourhoods, as in a few years this would improve the nutritional intake of the local community. Such a simple, wise and effective way to benefitting the community. And while improving the health of our women, giving back to Mother Earth a minuscule fraction of what we continue to snatch from it all the time.
Remember the historic Chipko movement of the 1970s, which came to a peak in Garhwal Himalayas, when women embraced trees to prevent contractors from cutting them? Passionate environmentalists such as Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sundarlal Bahuguna had then galvanised simple but feisty village women to check the frightening deforestation that was happening, holding out such dangerous ecological implications in the fragile Himalayan region. Without such committed crusaders, what would we do to our Earth? Refusing lunch at an environment seminar at a five-star hotel in Delhi, where Bahuguna was the keynote speaker, he had quietly told me: “Such hotels are built on the graveyards of forests; I won’t be able to digest food served here!”