The government is trying to turn the situation around through a massive tree plantation drive. But often these initiatives come and go without making a significant impact.
Now a nationwide campaign is urging people to adopt trees and, as Bismillah Geelani reports, it’s gaining traction.
Sixty year-old physician, Satish Agarwal is surrounded by a group of patients outside his clinic in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
He is handing out some papers for them to sign, before giving each of them a pair of saplings – one to plant along the pathway and another to take home.
The document the patients have signed is not a consent form for some medical procedure, but an adoption agreement for a tree.
Agarwal recalls how one of his patients made him sign the same paper a few months ago and turned him into an environmental crusader.
“I was a full time practitioner and didn’t care much about anything else. Then this person came and said, doctor! Why don’t you adopt a tree? I was a bit perplexed and jokingly asked him why should anyone adopt a tree?”
“He then told me in detail about the environmental degradation and how important trees are for our future. He totally convinced and converted me and now I’m trying to do my bit,” says Agarwal.
Hundreds of kilometers away in the southern city of Bangaluru, 30-year-old Radhika is tending to a roadside tree.
She has a passion for fully grown trees rather than saplings.
“Lots of people focus more on planting new trees and taking care of them and that’s one way of making sure that the city is green or the country is green.”
But she says, “I think taking care of old trees is much more important because these are really falling apart and I thought it was an amazing initiative to adopt a tree and just take care of one tree at a time, and I think that’s how it works.”
The Adopt a Tree Campaign is attracting volunteers from various parts of the country.
The World Wide Fund for Nature, or WWF, started the campaign a few years back to restore and preserve the country’s greenery, under threat by constant development.
Rituperna Sengupta is the group’s campaign manager.
“We have been seeing that spaces are being cleared, buildings are coming up—we are losing our green spaces in cities and towns across the country.”
Sengupta continued, “so instead of just doing plantation which just looks at planting any kind of tree, Adopt a Tree really looks at planting species that are native to that particular area, which basically means that the green cover of that city or that town increases with species that we know will grow in that area and are important for that area.”
But this is not just another plantation exercise, Sengupta is quick to clarify.
“We reach out to corporate, we reach out to schools, to young students, to colleges, to individuals and the person actually has an onus on the sapling that they are planting. It means that we actually document everybody who takes a sapling from us and it is imperative that the person comes back to us after a year and we keep in touch with this particular person to actually trace how this plant is growing.”
There has been growing concern about India’s reducing green cover.
A recent study by the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai found that large-scale deforestation was causing disruption in the rainfall pattern and triggering droughts.
The study warned the situation will worsen if deforestation continues at current rates.
At the Paris Climate Summit last year, the government pledged to increase forest cover from 20 to 30 percent of the country’s total geographical area.
To achieve this commitment, a series of tree plantations campaigns have been launched across the country.
In July this year, the northern state of Uttar Pradesh created a world record by planting 5 million trees in a single day.
But what happens to these trees after they are planted isn’t known.
Which is why Sengupta of the WWF India believes that long-term campaigns like Adopt a Tree, have the potential to really make a difference.
“We have seen through our various campaigns that people are becoming more and more aware of environmental issues around them. So they want to do something, which is simple, which is small yet has an impact.”
Sengupta went on, “this is really a very simple thing that they are doing and as soon as they know that they actually have to look after it they also want to do small things associated with conservation and a greener planet. Things like being careful of your water consumption and energy consumption because it builds a sense of engagement.”