While most of us have a love-hate relationship with bus conductors on usual days when their piercing eyes judge you for not bringing change aboard, here’s a Coimbatore conductor every passenger on bus number ‘70’ hands down loves and respects because he is driving actual change.
Meet 48-year-old M Yoganathan, a bus conductor working with the Tamil Nadu State Road Transport Corporation (TNSTC), who has single-handedly planted over 1 lakh trees in the last 28 years.
A native of Mayiladuthurai near Nagapattinam, a young Yoganathan would spend his time penning poems underneath the soothing shelter of trees of the Kotagiri forests in Nilgiri District. He remembers being awed by the beauty of the Nilgiris, where he also worked as a sales representative after completing his school.
Rattled by the actions of the timber mafia who felled and smuggled trees in the Nilgiris, he fought them.
“After witnessing trees being smuggled out, I had even staged a protest against it,” he said in an interview with the Times of India.
This was the turning point in Yoganathan’s life. He decided to take the onus of restoring and conserving the environment in whatever way he could.
Covering the ‘70’ route from Gandhipuram to Marudhamalai every day, this bus conductor uses over 40% of his monthly income buying saplings and educating children and youngsters in local schools and colleges about the environment. Till date, he has planted 1,20,000 saplings, throughout Tamil Nadu
While he wishes to do more, his growing aspirations for the environment are shackled by his meagre income.
Despite having started his conservation and plantation work in Kodanad, nothing deterred him from continuing it after moving to Coimbatore.
Popularly known as The Tree Man, Yoganathan has been felicitated for his work as an Indian environmental activist with awards like the Eco Warrior Award bestowed by the Government of India and the title Suttru Suzhal Sevai Veerar by the State Government of Tamil Nadu.
His duty as an environmentalist often demands leaves from his duty.
“I take leaves quite often, but only for environment-related activities. I have been transferred so many times that I have lost the count. I take my weekly offs on Monday, which helps me address students at educational institutions”, Yoganathan told the publication.
What is disheartening to know despite all the efforts this single man takes, is that he is not allowed to plant saplings in his house, since it is a rental one.
He is also making Tamil Nadu green by shelling out money from his own pocket without any official financial aid.
We can only request the government to help green crusaders like Yoganathan in every way they can, so they can continue to impact change and sensitise the next generation to invest in the environmental cause.